May 19, 2022

A Living Wage | Week 2 Challenge Recap

Last week in our Stand Against Racism Challenge, we learned about A Living Wage. Whether or not you’re taking the Challenge with us, you can still learn more about how this concept

comes to play in Spokane. 

Take The Challenge

A Living Wage v. Minimum Wage

A living wage is the minimum income necessary for an individual or family to meet their basic needs. Contrary to how it sounds, minimum wage rarely meets the standards of a living wage and the disparity between the cost of living and minimum wage varies greatly by state and city. You can calculate your living wage with the Living Wage Calculator, developed by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier at MIT. 

Here in Spokane, the minimum wage is consistent with the state law, which mandates workers be paid a minimum of $14.49 per hour. In a household with zero children and one full time wage earner, the minimum wage still falls short of the $14.94 needed to make ends meet. Many minimum wage workers struggle to get full-time hours, pay, and benefits as well, adding to the inequities they face in the workforce

The federal minimum wage remains the same as it was in 2009 at a meager $7.25. Many state laws permit businesses to pay tipped workers below the minimum wage. This means many workers rely on inconsistent tips to meet their basic needs, which unfortunately, just doesn’t cut it. This loophole in the law has roots in racism, as sub-minimum wage for tipped workers became legal right after emancipation, specifically to avoid having to pay a wage to freed Black people. 

Tipped workers in America may make as little as $2.13 an hour, and while employers are required to make up the difference if workers don’t get tipped adequately, 35% of tipped workers experience wage theft. Workers in our neighboring state of Idaho are subject to this subminimum wage, driving many into poverty, unable to find or travel for higher paying jobs. 

Disproportionality at the Top

In the United States, women, marginalized genders, and people of color are overrepresented as minimum wage workers. While many argue that companies can’t afford to pay workers higher wages,  CEOs’ salaries in a majority of companies compared with the average wage worker has jumped exponentially. Since 1950, “the ratio of CEO pay to employee pay has since increased 1,000%.” 

Leaders and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies continue to largely be white men. In 2020, 92.6% of these CEOs were white, with 85.8% of these CEOs being white men. While these numbers are daunting, other leadership positions such as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) have been diversifying more rapidly, “the number of Black CFOs nearly doubled between 2020 to 2021.

The benefits of diverse leadership have been repeatedly proven, with companies finding that employees are more satisfied, there are more opportunities, and higher rates of positive change being implemented where workplace leadership is more diverse. 

Myths of Minimum Wage

While many still hold the belief that minimum or low-wage jobs are predominantly for teenagers who still depend on their parents financially, this is not the full picture. 

Recent data has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which produced significant decreases in low-wage workers due to industry and job instability. In 2020 and 2021, however, workers aged 16-24 made up 44.3% of minimum or subminimum wage workers in the US, while 25-34 year olds made up another 24.6%. While the majority of minimum and subminimum wage workers are young, they are not without financial responsibility. 

46% of working teens say that “they or their families depend on their income for living expenses.” Covid has only increased the strain on young people financially. As families deal with illnesses, many have to depend on one another to make up the loss in income. Whether or not young people are living on their own, few workers are free of financial burdens or responsibilities. 

While the number of young parents (age 18 to 24) has decreased steadily over the decades, there are still a significant number of young people with children in the United States. According to Kids Count, “3.4 million U.S. children live with parents ages 18 to 24, and nearly 40% of them (mostly infants, toddlers and preschoolers) live in poverty.” Supporting young workers also means supporting their children and families, who require financial support to maintain their health and safety. 

Poverty & Health

The Odds Against Tomorrow report, published by Spokane Regional Health District in 2012 exposed the health inequities Spokane residents face based on income, race, and the location of their neighborhood. To get a fuller picture of health inequities in Spokane, check out the full report

Our demographics reveal that Black, Indigenous, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander individuals are living at or below the federal poverty level in much higher numbers than white Spokane residents. People of color living in Spokane are also less likely to have health insurance, a necessary health and safety measure. 

Data in Spokane reveals that increasing our investment in the education and income of all Spokane residents would have a huge impact on the health of Spokane. To improve the health and lives of our community, we need to create more supportive and equitable working environments, which includes livable wages for all workers. The culture of our workplaces should reflect the values of the employees and support the value that they bring to their workplaces and community. 

If you have…

5 Minutes


10 Minutes


15 Minutes

and Image of a grey clock with text that says, "10 minutes" and Image of a grey clock with text that says, "15 minutes"
Check out this video by ABC News on minimum wage, and the impact it has as Americans struggle to keep up with inflation. and Watch this video by NBCLX to learn more about the systems that keep low-wage working Americans on the financial edge. and Explore this article and video by King 5 News to find out what kind of impact the covid-era has had on the gender wage gap in Washington.

BONUS: If you have an extra 10 minutes, read this article to learn about the intergenerational connection between financial health and domestic violence. 


Take a moment to reflect today’s challenge and any insights you experienced.

  • How did this challenge make you feel?
  • What did you learn?
  • What did you notice about yourself after taking the challenge?
  • Consider sharing this new awareness with a friend or group to help deepen your understanding of the information.
  • Continue the conversation online and connect with others by joining our Racial & Social Justice Facebook group.

Let us know why this challenge is important to you by leaving your comment here

Again, thank you for joining us in our Stand Against Racism Challenge. Our work continues every weekday from May 2 – May 30. Each day you’ll be offered some content to help you take a deeper dive into the daily topic.

We ask that you undertake this challenge with an open mind and willingness to explore new ideas and allow yourself to sit with any emotions that may come up for you.

This content may be hard to process so consider having a self-care plan in place beforehand. This can include meditation before or after engaging, watching your favorite show, or doing something creative.

We look forward to going on this journey towards true equity and justice with you!

Just joining the SAR Challenge? Register here.

Racial Equity work is consistently underfunded. YWCA needs your help to continue to provide high quality programming like our Stand Against Racism Challenge.

Make a $21 investment in your own anti-racist development and challenge yourself to encourage 21 other people to take the challenge and match your $21 investment.


By: Rachel Dannen

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