Posts Tagged ‘living income’

Injured in America

I broke my ankle. It’s winter, which means ice and snow in Maine. Thanks to that wonder, Climate Change, it’s more ice than snow this year. I stepped on what I thought was snow that would give me footing. It wasn’t. I went down hard. I didn’t look at my foot, but according to the EMTs, it was laying at an abnormal angle.

I have insurance, luckily, so this is only a mildly horrifying story, instead of a really horrifying one. But in order to limit the damage to my $14 per hour income, since I’m generally in good health, I picked the high deductible plan.

I’ve been out of work for a month now. Luckily, my employer does offer short-term disability pay at full pay, which is apparently unusually generous. I do not, however, qualify for federal protection of my job since I haven’t been employed there for a year. I had been doing the job for 10 days short of a year when I got hurt, but since the first four months were as a temp employee, that doesn’t count as working there. Human Resources has confirmed that my job will be safe as long as I don’t stay out longer than “an ankle usually takes to heal.”

As it is tax season, and I’m not able to do much else, I got that out of the way. It also gave me some good information. Last year, I made $30,300.03. My health insurance deductible is $5,500. That’s 18.15% of my pre-tax income and does not include my premiums. My after-tax income, after adjusting for my tax returns, was $24,613.68. That bumps the deductible up to 22.35% or $211.54 per $946.68 bi-weekly paycheck.

Let’s think a little bit further about this. I don’t pay rent because I can’t afford to if I’m going to be making any other financial progress in my life, but if I did, we’re told to budget about 30% of our income for that. That’s $284 per paycheck (after tax, since that’s what I actually have to work with) and I’m only able to rent a room for that amount. My commuting/car expenses average about $384 per month last year, or about $192 per paycheck. (Ouch, tires are expensive even over 12 months.) I spend $50 per month on my cell phone, $25 per paycheck. Last year I spent about $60 per month on primarily work clothes, or $30 per paycheck. The food I purchased was about $300 per month, or $150 per paycheck. The total for not very extravagant living expenses comes to $681 per paycheck. Adding in my health insurance premiums of about $36 per paycheck brings me to $717.

946.68  total after-tax income -717.00  basic living expenses = 229.68 – 211.54 to cover my annual deductible = $18.14

This tells me that on average, after covering my basic living expenses and my healthcare deductible, I am left with less than $20 per month to cover electric bills, internet bills, random book purchases, extra gas because I want to go to the fair, and any random awshit that might crop up. Like being out of work for a month with a broken ankle if my employer didn’t cover short-term disability pay.

But, hey, once I’ve been there for a year, my company will match if I put 6% of my income into my 401(k). Because I have $70 to spare from each paycheck to set aside for retirement.

My doctor’s sister apparently broke her ankle recently, but she’s living in Canada. She told him coming down was too far, but I have to wonder if she also didn’t want to end up paying two or three months’ income for the pleasure of American healthcare.


That Money Thing

It’s uncouth to talk about money. Yet one of the first things we ask upon meeting someone is “What do you do?” And we aren’t talking about what a person does to make the world a better place or to make themselves happy. We want to know what their job is. And we know that someone who says “teacher” has a smaller income than someone who says “lawyer.” Even “lawyer” has it’s levels. “Public defender?” That’s almost as bad as “teacher.” “Prosecutor” is a bit more monied and has that sheen of absolute respectability. But what you really want to be is “corporate lawyer.” That’s where the money is. And where the money is is where you find the respect.


I found this calculator from MIT. They call it a “Living Wage Calculator,” but right on the first page they tell you it’s really the amount a family (they offer several sizes) needs to meet minimal standards of living. They break it down by city/county in each state, as New York is not going to have the same expenses as Bozeman is not going to have the same expenses as Hidalgo County, Texas.

So, for the sake of comparison, let’s go with a random place and income level. Say . . . mine. That puts us in Cumberland County, Maine. I am a family of, well, me. So according to this calculator, I can get by on $10.95 per hour if I work a full 40 hours for every single week of the year. The fact that the job I just left was paying me a salary of $920 every two weeks ($11.50 per for 80 hours) meant I was doing pretty well, right? Let’s see what the breakdown is:

Food: $3,497 annually

Divided by 52 weeks, this gives me a weekly food budget of $67.25. That’s about $3.20 per meal. Working off of their assumption that you will never eat out or order in and that you will be more likely to choose the less expensive options in the grocery store, I can see how one could make that work. Assuming you know how to cook. And you already own the necessary tools. And you’re not trying to fix or improve your health with nutritionally useful food. However, having been a single person living alone, I know that sometimes you just can’t handle another meal alone at your kitchen table. You need a meal surrounded by people. Or at least one where you don’t have to do the dishes. So you spend $15 on an omelette at Denny’s. That’s five meals worth of food, according to this budget.

Childcare: $0

It’s a good thing I’m not a single mother, because I’d have to make more than twice as much to support us.

Medical: $2,084

This covers insurance premiums, deductibles, drugs, and any medical devices. I just got new glasses. For the pair that I absolutely had to have for work, I was looking at $300 or so after the small portion my insurance would help with at the eye doctor’s. I ended up going to WalMart and got them there for $118. New insurance plan? Don’t get sick, injured, or need new glasses.

Housing: $8,100

That gives me $675 per month for rent and utilities. According to Craigslist, at this very moment in time, there are 17 possibilities within 20 miles of Bridgton, Maine in the “Apts/Housing” section. As an adult making a “living” wage, I should be able to afford an apartment, right? Right off the bat, two are seasonal. One requires the lease of the downstairs commercial space.One varies up to $681 per month plus electricity. That’s out. Two more vary in a similar manner, just higher. One is $675 without utilities. One is not an apartment, it’s just a room. One posted a weekly rate. That leaves me with a studio, a single-wide, or a one-bedroom for $600 plus utilities. Heat alone will cost more than $75. My options are two apartments for $500 plus utilities or one for $550, utilities included. None of them offer pictures. None of them appear to be professionally managed.

Transportation: $3,575

This gives you $297.92 per month or $68.75 per week. When I was commuting all the way to South Portland, I was budgeting $40 per week for gas- this is a number I can work with! Except that it also has to include car payments, insurance, maintenance, repairs, and snow tires.

Annual Taxes: $3,376

My thoughts on taxes require their own post. Or three.

Other: $2,146

This category includes everything else. Clothing, shampoo, phone, internet, furniture, entertainment. I have a pretty cheap phone plan at $53 per month. That is $636 annually. I just bought a pair of work pants last week that I tried very hard to find for less, but I ended up having to pay retail for because they were required. $40. I’ve been gathering cooking utensils for years, so I don’t need to buy anything, but if I did, it would be in this category. So is savings. Or it would be if there were anything left to save.

I left the job for several reasons, but one was that I had taken it under the impression that the commission piece would make up for the non-commission trial period and the minimal salary. The two commission payments I have gotten made my income $13.65 per hour and $14.15 per hour, assuming 40-hour weeks. But because I’m salary, they were starting to tell me that I needed to do the “rest of my job” by being rabidly pro-employer at after-hours business functions, and take the phone, which would give our customers 24-hour access to us, for one week out of three.

Somehow, being told that my salary-plus-commission is “pretty good”and justifies asking me to do the “rest of my job” just doesn’t make me want to be rabidly pro-employer. Not when the numbers break down to a sketchy apartment, very limited food options, the kind of vehicle that would be held together with inshallah and duct tape, and nothing left over for silly things like debt payments and savings. Assuming of course that I hadn’t already been so beaten up by similar numbers that I had been forced to move back in with my parents.

I don’t want to be rich. My debt, while significant, is not out of control. My tastes do not run to Dom Perignon and diamonds. I want to live comfortably and expect to afford retirement. If I am working 40 hours a week, I want to be able to afford hobbies to help me unwind from work. The fact that these expectations are, evidently, unreasonable is in no way the fault of myself or my generation. Yet we are handed the blame. Everything would be going much better if you handed us reasonable incomes, instead.