Raising a Family on a Minimum Wage: The Elephant in the Room

by | Aug 16, 2022

If we truly want to help low-income households, then we must begin by holding individuals accountable and counsel them to make better choices.

Housing activists frequently proclaim that a household earning the minimum wage cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment. This is the elephant in the room that housing activists refuse to address.

As an example, the executive director of the Capital Area Housing Partnership in Michigan writes,

The fair market rent for a modest two-bedroom apartment in the Lansing region is $909. The minimum hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment without being cost-burdened is $17.48. A family earning Michigan’s minimum wage of $9.65 will never afford a market-rate rental unit without incurring drastic reductions to basic necessities like healthcare, transportation or food.

There is no disputing that a family earning the minimum wage will struggle financially. However, virtually nobody wants to address why individuals attempt to raise a family while earning the minimum wage. This is the elephant in the room.

Having children is a choice, and it is a choice that will have significant financial consequences. If an individual chooses to have children while ignoring the financial impact, he has nobody to blame but himself. Some housing activists have called this view “classist and racist.” Apparently, suggesting that individuals be responsible for their own choices is politically incorrect.

If individuals are not held accountable for their poor decisions, they will continue to make poor choices. When individuals are immune to the consequences of their decisions, they have no incentive to make better choices in the future. We do others no favors by enabling irresponsible behavior.

In the same vein, we must ask why an adult is unable to earn more than the minimum wage. In most instances, it is because he possesses few job skills. This too is a matter of individual choice. There are countless opportunities to expand one’s earning potential. One can take courses to increase one’s knowledge. An individual can get a part-time job to learn new skills. One can start a business. If an individual refuses to expand his knowledge and job skills, he must accept the consequences of that choice.

If we truly want to help low-income households, then we must begin by holding individuals accountable and counsel them to make better choices. However, if we pretend that actions don’t have consequences, we will continue to ignore the elephant in the room.

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Brian Phillips is the founder of the Texas Institute for Property Rights. Brian has been defending property rights for nearly thirty years. He played a key role in defeating zoning in Houston, Texas, and in Hobbs, New Mexico. He is the author of three books: Individual Rights and Government Wrongs, The Innovator Versus the Collective, and Principles and Property Rights. Visit his website at texasipr.com.

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