I had dinner with a Seattle acquaintance last week who’d recently moved to Texas. She commented that she was shocked to learn that a waiter in Texas could get paid so little (as little as $2.13 per hour before tips). This got me thinking about Washington’s comparatively generous minimum wage of more than $9.00 per hour (it’s still not enough but is the highest in the country) and the social benefit that results from this amount.

At Bellwether we often talk about the benefits that our affordable apartments provide to our residents and throughout the community. One of these is economic: our residents can afford their rent and have more discretionary income to spend on groceries, clothing and other necessities. These purchases directly affect the local neighborhood and have a positive impact on businesses’ bottom line.

Now imagine what a difference a higher wage could make to an individual in addition to an affordable place to live. Economists often write about a “living wage”. But this term is really a misnomer as the wage is not adequate for a decent living. Rather, it covers only the very basic needs and leaves little (if anything) left over. With employment growing the most in the low-wage service industry more frustrated workers are making it clear that they need higher wages just to get by and as the article points out, all it takes are a few extra dollars an hour to equal a few thousand extra a year. And although this may seem like an expensive proposition, consider this report that explains the ripple effect of paying a worker more. The result is the same for those with higher wages and those residents who have affordable rent: more money is put back into the community.

So what would $5 more mean to you?  Take a look at the links in this post and share your thoughts.

  1. I’ve been a Bellwether resident since 1999. At that time, I was making barely enough money to cover my basic needs. I could afford food… BUT I had a $20-per-week food budget. (The only fresh fruit I could consistently afford was a bunch of bananas.) I could afford clothes… BUT only if I wore them until they fell apart, and then bought the replacements secondhand.

    Forget going out to dinner or a movie. Forget meeting a friend for coffee. Forget buying a computer. Forget traveling. Forget a lot of little things that people take for granted, but that I didn’t have the money for because I could only afford necessities.

    I got a better job in 2008. Instead of $5 per hour more, my income now is more than double what it was in 1999. Here is what higher pay has meant to me:

    In 2009, I was able to travel to California for the funeral of a favorite aunt.

    I can afford fresh (and even organic when possible!) fruits and vegetables–and better-quality food overall.

    I can afford to buy new clothes–including investment purchases like a skirt for work or a well-made pair of boots that will last a long time.

    My social life has improved: I regularly meet friends for coffee, and I go out to dinner a couple of times a month. I’ve invested in a gym membership and, with that and better-quality food, lost 60 pounds.

    I’m also part of several Seattle-area hiking groups. I’ve been able to invest in good-quality equipment to enjoy hiking and climbing safely… including some crucial pieces of equipment that may have saved my life this past summer on a steep snowfield crossing.

    I’m typing out this comment on a laptop I bought brand-new last year… and am putting money aside into a “travel fund” for trips to Alaska and Costa Rica.

    If you’ve read this far, you can already see the difference. Having only enough for the most basic needs was getting by… but it certainly wasn’t living the full life I wanted to live.

    • Bellwether Staff says:

      > Thank you for taking the time to share your story! Your experience confirms that being able to afford more than rent – combined with earning a better wage – can make a noticeable difference in the quality of one’s life.
      We’re always looking for people who are willing to share their experience as part of Bellwether’s Story Project. If you’d like to learn more about this advocacy effort, please feel free to contact

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