Last night I was reading a discussion on FlyerTalk that got into the question of whether or not tipping should be an expectation of hotel housekeeping staff. That discussion veered off into a bigger question of minimum wage versus livable wage. That discussion reminded me of two resources that I’ve highlighted in the past to help students understand why minimum wage and livable wage are almost never the same thing. 

The Living Wage Calculator is a great resource hosted by MIT. The Living Wage Calculator displays the current minimum wage and livable wage in all fifty U.S. states, the counties within each state, and the largest metropolitan areas within each state. The data is provided based on individuals and families. For example, the livable wage for a single person in my county is $16.97/hour versus the minimum wage of $12.75 while the livable wage for a family of four with two working adults is $24.04/hour versus the minimum wage of $12.75/hour. To support these calculations the Living Wage Calculator includes a corresponding table of typical expenses for each given location. Those expenses include taxes, housing, transportation, child care, and food. 

Life on Minimum Wage (link opens a Google Doc) is an activity that I developed almost thirteen years ago to help my civics students recognize how difficult it is to save money when your only job(s) pay minimum wage without benefits. To win at Life on Minimum Wage the students have to reach five financial goals that they select. To earn money the students have to complete the tasks of their assigned jobs. The students then have to pay required bills before using money for their selected financial goals. As the game progresses students will be issued “surprise” cards which require them to spend money on things like speeding tickets, trips to a health clinic, and increases in rent. All of the jobs in Life on Minimum Wage are connected so that if one business slows production or closes, the workers of another business are also impacted. The goal here is to demonstrate the effects of a business closing on a small town’s economy.

Important notes before using this activity:
I have not adjusted this activity to account for inflation since 2009. You’ll probably want to do that.

Before you email me about the Browning rifle goal card, please understand that these were goals chosen by my students in a rural community in which hunting is often a family tradition. You’re welcome to change that card for use in your own classroom.