If you think that $15 an hour seems like a ginormous amount of money to pay a minimum wage worker, then think again. The era in which minimum wage jobs were largely staffed by teenagers and other first-time workers has long since passed—indeed, nearly 40 percent of all US jobs in 2012 paid less than a "living wage" of $15 an hour, up from 36.5 percent just three years earlier.
And in much of the nation, $15 isn't even a living wage. According to the 2013 Job Gap Study from the Alliance for a Just Society (pdf), a single adult in Washington State would need to earn $16.04 an hour, 40 hours a week, in order to balance the most basic household budget:
And keep in mind, those are average numbers for Washington State as a whole. According to Ben Henry at the Alliance for a Just Society, a previous study found costs in King County to be between 7 percent and 17 percent higher than statewide numbers, depending on the household type. And they are conservative numbers at that. For example, do you think you could live in Seattle spending only $6.67 a day on food? Because that's what $203 a month comes to.
It's numbers like these that illustrate the rhetorical challenge facing minimum wage opponents when they argue that businesses can't afford to pay a higher minimum wage. About two-thirds of the jobs created since the end of the Great Depression have been low-wage and/or part-time—in Washington State, there are 22 job seekers for every job opening that would pay a living wage to a one-worker, four-person household, according to the report. So to argue that employers simply can't pay a higher wage is to argue that 40 percent (and growing!) of US households must be condemned to live in poverty.
Roll your eyes at Kshama Sawant and her Socialist rhetoric all you want, but there's no arguing that our current economic system isn't broken.