The short answer is yes. But that’s a very qualified yes, because, you know, anything is possible. But is it in any way easy to live in Brooklyn making only minimum wage? No, absolutely not. In case the numbers are a little too abstract for you though, we thought we’d break it down so that you could see just how difficult it would be to try and live a completely independent life while making minimum wage in a borough where the average cost of rent is $3,000 per month. The results are actually kind of scary. Buckle up, we’re in for a bumpy, theoretical budget planning ride.
The first thing you need to know is that minimum wage in New York state is $7.25/hour. However, legislation passed this past March which will raise minimum wage to $9/hour over the course of the next three years. What this means is, by the end of 2013, minimum wage will be up to $8/hour. Hooray? Sure. Hooray. Why not? Very few jobs pay only minimum wage though, with even fast food places paying an average of $8.94/hour to its workers. You don’t need to be that good at math, though, to realize that this still isn’t exactly what you’d call a livable wage, and this low salary is a huge reason that so many fast food workers walked out on their jobs two weeks ago. But as hard as it is to live off a salary like that in some place where you can rent an apartment for $400/month (yes, these places do exist, or so I’m told), how would it be possible to live off this type of salary in Brooklyn?
Well, let’s say a minimum wage worker is making $7.25 per hour and is working 40 hours a week. That comes out to $1,160/month—pre-taxes. There’s a good chance, however, that someone making this kind of money is doing so on a freelance basis, and is not paying taxes right away. So, to make it easier, let’s just look at that number without subtracting taxes. Even assuming that this minimum wage worker could get away with finding a room to rent for $500/month, what about all the other basic costs of living? What about a Metrocard (at $112/month that’s 10% of this worker’s paycheck) or a cellphone (virtually a necessity at this point and even the most basic of phones costs about $40/month) and, you know, food that isn’t Top Ramen? Food alone is going to set even the most budget conscious person back at least $75/week, or $300/month. Plus, there’ll be splitting gas and electric fees and potentially having to deal with medical bills except, of course, you’re not allowed to get sick because you just can’t afford it. All in all, this is a pretty grim picture. And even raising the minimum wage to $9/hour is only going to increase a worker’s monthly salary to $1,440/month. Better, I suppose, but not good. Not good.