McDonald's employees have demanded $15 an hour to stay out of poverty.National Journal

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Raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, proponents say, will lift workers out of poverty. But how many hours per week on the current minimum wage would they need to work to remain above the poverty line?

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a lone parent with two children would need to work 50 hours per week, while a one-earner couple with two children would need work that totaled more than 60 hours a week.

Those kinds of hours are not realistic for someone with just one minimum wage job, since many employers try to limit workers' hours in an attempt to avoid letting them qualify for benefits. And while an individual could cobble together several minimum-wage jobs, unpredictable schedules and multiple commutes can make that situation a nightmare for families, and especially single parents. 

This hours-to-poverty ratio puts the United States near the bottom of OECD countries that have a minimum wage, sitting above Spain, Greece, South Korea, Estonia, and the Czech Republic—countries that require as many as 80 hours per week of work to stay above the poverty line.

On the other end of the spectrum, a minimum-wage job in Australia requires fewer than 10 hours per week for a lone parent with two children and 20 hours per week for a one-earner couple with two children.

The OECD calls for an increase in the minimum wages for some countries, but it does warn against doing so without proper debate and consideration. "Minimum wages should be reviewed frequently," the study says, "but doing so mechanically, e.g., by increasing them in line with average wages, fails to account for labor-market conditions and the specific situation of intended beneficiaries." At least the U.S., in which the federal minimum wage has remained unchanged since September 1997 despite average wages rising by 80 percent, can say it has safely avoided that particular problem.

This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.

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