It Takes 50 Hours of Work Per Week to Raise a Family Out of Poverty

May 8th 2015

Sarah Gray

It takes an American minimum-wage earner 50 hours of work a week to rise out of poverty. According to a recent study released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that's three times as many hours as it takes a U.K. minimum-wage earner to lift their family above the poverty line.

The study, "Minimum wages after the crisis: Making them pay" looked at several aspects of the minimum wage for member countries of the OECD following the Great Recession.

"Legal minimum wages are a government’s most direct policy lever for influencing wage levels, especially for workers in a weak bargaining position," the study states. "They also serve as a basic labour standard, alongside working-hours regulations and related provisions to ensure basic job-quality standards. Currently, 26 out of 34 OECD countries have statutory minimum wages in place ... as do Colombia and Latvia, who are seeking OECD membership, and a majority of emerging economies."

Of OECD countries, the U.S. is tied with Portugal for having the seventh-longest number of hours needed (50) for a family consisting of a single parent with two children to rise above the poverty line. The Czech Republic had the longest number of hours needed to cross the poverty threshold, at 79 hours per week.

"For families, what matters is the income that a minimum-wage job brings after accounting for tax burdens and government transfers," the study explained. "On this measure, countries differ enormously and in some countries incomes of full-time minimum-wage earners can be well below commonly used poverty lines. In these cases, even working very long hours may not enable families to escape income poverty as conventionally measured."

The OECD's poverty line threshold was measured as earning "50 percent of the nation’s net median household income," according to the Wall Street Journal.

In some countries including Ireland, the U.K., and Australia working half-time at their respective minimum wages can lift a family of three (one working parent and two children) out of poverty. For the U.K. it is 16 hours per week, in Ireland it is eight hours, and in Australia working just six hours per week is enough to raise a family out of poverty, according to the OECD.

In the United States, the minimum wage is set at $7.25 an hour, which is not enough for many minimum-wage earners to support their families.

Many cities around the country, inducing Seattle, San Francisco, and others are raising their minimum wages. On Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he was calling for a wage board to set a higher minimum wage for certain low-wage industries including fast-food workers. At the end of April, Sen. Patty Murray introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour.

Groups such as the Fight for $15 are calling for a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers and others including home health care workers. Learn more about the minimum wage below, and sign the petition to raise the minimum wage here.