Reviews | January is Poverty Awareness Month and Iowa has work to do

The $7.25 minimum wage is long overdue and not enough money for Iowans to meet their basic needs. It’s time for Iowa to adjust to a living wage.


January is Poverty Awareness Month. As the month draws to a close, it’s clear, looking at Iowa’s minimum wage, that we have work to do to continue to address the issue.

Poverty is a long-standing issue everywhere, and with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals and families are facing increased hardship. Iowa needs to raise the minimum wage and address the disparities that communities of color face.

The minimum wage in Iowa is $7.25 an hour. However, the living wage for an adult without children is almost double, at $13.62 per hour. The poverty wage for an adult with no children is just below the minimum at $6.13 an hour. For an adult with one child, the poverty wage is $8.29 an hour.

Not surprisingly, families in Iowa can’t live on $7.25 an hour and shouldn’t be asked to work for a job that won’t cover their basic needs. Students who self-fund their education and living expenses would also not be able to live on Iowa’s minimum wage.

Higher poverty rates among minority communities are even more concerning. Colored Iowans face poverty at much higher rates than white Iowans. The most recent data from the Census Bureau shows that 27.3% of African Americans and 31.7 Native Americans have experienced poverty in Iowa.

Currently, African Americans make up just over 4% of Iowa’s population, and Native Americans make up less than 1% of the population. It is alarming that so many of these small groups live in poverty.

As the pandemic has disproportionately affected minority communities, tackling poverty and the minimum wage has become even more urgent.

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the income challenges that many people face. A report showed over a seven-day period in the fall of 2021 that one in eight American adults with children did not have enough food. Black and Latino adults were more than twice as likely to face food insecurity.

The meat packing and processing industry is a perfect example of how we need to look at wages and poverty through the prism of a living wage rather than being above the poverty.

In the country, a significant number of people who operate meatpacking plants are from immigrant and minority communities. About 38% of workers in the meat processing industry are immigrants, with the most widely spoken language being Spanish.

Since Iowa is the state with the second highest number of meat processing workers in the country, many of these people are minority and immigrant backgrounds, as the job pays almost double. minimum wage and does not require English.

Even with rising incomes, in the top five meat-producing states, the median annual wage is $35,000. According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator for Iowa, this annual salary is just enough to cover the typical expenses of an adult without children. While this work represents a significant step up from minimum wage, it is still not enough for many households.

Even when a $15 wage puts childless workers above the poverty wage, it’s still not a living wage for adults with children.

We should not equate being above the poverty line with earning a living wage. Jobs in the meat industry are essential to feed the country. As we have learned throughout the pandemic, grocery store jobs are also essential. Workers in these industries need a salary that will cover their living expenses, whether or not they have children.


The columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the editorial board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations with which the author may be involved.


Maria D. Ervin