Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren claimed on Saturday that when she was a child, a family of three could live on minimum wage. “Back when I was a kid, a minimum-wage job could support a family of three,” she tweeted. “Today, a full-time minimum-wage job in America won’t keep a mama and a baby out of poverty.”
Back when I was a kid, a minimum-wage job could support a family of three. Today, a full-time minimum-wage job in America won’t keep a mama and a baby out of poverty. Our movement is about making real, fundamental change to fix this.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 16, 2019
No one disputes that today’s minimum wage would not provide sustainable income for a family of two, much less three. Warren’s initial claim — that “a minimum-wage job could support a family of three” when she was a child — only holds true in part.
Warren was born in 1949. In 1960, she would have been 11 years old. The minimum wage at that time was $1. Assuming a 40-hour work week, the annual pay would have been $2080. The poverty line in 1960, for a family of three, was $2322 annually.
In 1965, when Warren was 16 years old, the minimum wage had risen to $1.25. Again assuming a 40-hour work week, the annual pay would have been $2600. The poverty line in 1965 for the same size family was $2514, making Warren’s claim just barely possible at that time. (RELATED: Liz Cheney Refuses To Attack Trump, Calls Warren A Laughingstock Instead)
But possible or not, Warren ignores two very important factors with regard to minimum wage.
First, who actually earns it. Fewer than three percent of Americans earn minimum wage as of 2017 — and the majority of them are young. Workers under 25 only make up about 20 percent of all hourly paid workers, but they account for close to half of those who are paid minimum wage. Minimum wage earners also tend to be primarily part-time (fewer than 35 hours per week), with only one percent of full-time workers falling into the minimum wage category.
And second, its intent. The minimum wage was not designed to “support a family of three,” but rather to serve as an entry point into the workforce. Politifact argued five years ago — after then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell claimed on “Fox News Sunday” in 2014 that the minimum wage applied to “entry-level” jobs — that he was wrong because most minimum wage jobs don’t turn into careers. But what Politifact failed to take into account was the fact that most people don’t stay in those minimum wage jobs for their entire careers.