Oakland’s New Minimum Wage: A Living Wage?


This story was supposed to be about eateries and the new minimum wage. I eat out now and then. I like good food. While not a foodie per say; I know what equates good food and stellar service. When they line up, I am not opposed to paying the going rate. But when I think about what those occasional tabs look like, and think of surviving off minimum wage, it takes me back to the times when eating out was not an option.  It is still not an option for the thousands living in Oakland with no food security. I am talking about people who have to skip meals, eat less than well, and/or go hungry for one or more days on a consistent basis.

Many of the households that lack food security are houses with children. In many of the houses one or both parents work, and even with school meals, and free summer lunch programs their children are not afforded a healthy diet fit for growing minds and bodies. Hunger is a problem in America. There are American children, some living in Oakland CA that went to school hungry this morning, and will go to bed hungry tonight. The number of working poor is growing faster than the creation of well-paying jobs in American cities. So rather than a conversation about how restaurants will fare having to pay a minimum wage of $12.25 — I am more interested in a conversation about whether the new minimum wage is a living wage.

If one makes $12.25, (the new minimum wage), they earn a whopping $1,980.00 a month before taxes if you work 40 hours a week. That’s moving in the direction of a living wage but what type of lifestyle will it support?

If one spends a third of their income on rent, (most places want you to earn 3 x’s what the rent is), you will have to find a place to live that cost less than $700.00, in Oakland, one of the most volatile rental markets in California. In all likelihood you will have to break the 1/3 rule to find a place with four actual walls and a ceiling, so let’s say rent is a minimum of $700.00 for a room with kitchen privileges and a shared bath.  After securing this miracle living space one would have $1,327.00, before taxes left to negotiate a month.

Let’s assume frugal living and no major expenses, no student loans, no new car note, and thrift store shopping, and fill your miracle living space with found items – you will still need to wash the thrift store finds and groom yourself, and you will probably want lights and gas and may have to pay for water. There are other necessities, mandatory auto insurance, gas, maintenance of your not new car, or a Clipper Card, maybe life insurance, no health insurance will incur a penalty, do you have a cell phone, internet, or pay to view television, hard to imagine functioning without at least one of them. Let’s say your budget resembles the one below:


Rent a room: $700

Food: $465 ($5.00 a meal three meals a day for 31)

Cell Phone: $40

Cable/Internet (splitting the bill): $50

Electricity (splitting the bill): $40

Water: 35

Transportation: $151.20 (The cost of a monthly Clipper pass. It ridiculously captures a car note, or car maintenance for your not new car.)

Sundries/Toiletries: $120.00 ($30.00 a week for laundry, toiletries, cleaning supplies, non-food essentials – saran wrap, napkins, mouse traps, a bottle of wine, ink for your printer, batteries, etc.)

Insurance: 100.00 ( Let’s say it’s a miracle and 100.00 a month covers mandatory auto and health insurance or renters insurance if you choose to find somewhere for less than 700.00 a month to live.)

Saving and or surprises: $50

Credit cards: $60 (or magazines, cleaners, newspaper subscriptions, barber shop, etc.)


You can see, there is not a lot of room for living it up on the town to be had by earning $12.25 an hour, even for a single person working a full 40 hour week. In reality, 35 hours often equates to full time. So theoretically $12.25 would not quite support the lifestyle above especially if one must pay taxes. A single person working full time and earning the minimum wage with no dependents will have to pay taxes. With dependents, even with a tax break, your strained dollars will have to stretch even further, and with even one more mouth to feed, a safety net becomes essential to survival.

So is $12.25 a living wage? No. It’s better than the old minimum, but it’s not enough. $15.00 an hour is perhaps the bottom wage on which one can negotiate a modest living in Oakland as a single person with no major debt or dependents. So here’s to the hike, its better, but not close enough to best for me to consider whether the delicious overpriced burgers at Lukas Tap Room are better than the equal pricey and delicious burgers at Tenth & Wood when more people than I feel comfortable thinking about are not able to afford McDonald’s.