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The bare minimum 

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The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 set the federal minimum wage for non-farm workers at 25 cents an hour. Sixty-six years later, the hourly minimum wage is $5.15, although some states and cities supersede that amount: Maine has set its minimum hourly wage at $6.25; by local ordinance, full-time, permanent City of San Antonio employees earn a minimum of $8.50, which still is often inadequate to cover rent for a two-bedroom apartment.

As the wage has failed to keep up with inflation, people earning the minimum amount have less purchasing power. The wage of $5.15 represents 58 percent of the poverty level; in the late 1960s, when it was about $1.60, it equaled 90 percent of the poverty level.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has proposed increasing the minimum wage 36 percent to $7 by 2007. According to his June 2004 campaign statement, in Texas alone, 558,000 women workers — the primary beneficiaries of a hike in the minimum wage — would benefit from the increase. For more data on the minimum wage, go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov).

By Lisa Sorg

At $5.15 an hour, you would have to work the following number of hours to pay for these items:

Groceries
12 minutes: eight lemons
15 minutes: three pounds of dried pinto beans
45 minutes: two boxes of Lucky Charms cereal
54 minutes: 64 ounces of Tropicana orange juice
1 hour: two 8-ounce packs of H-E-B cheese
1.03 hours: eight ears of sweet corn
1.9 hours: five 12-packs of Big Red (12 ounces)
2 hours: one box of Surf powdered detergent (120 loads)

Clothing
4 hours: pair of children's jeans
4 hours: one school uniform
5.8 hours: pair of kids' Keds tennis shoes

School supplies
10 minutes: one box of crayons (24 count)
30 minutes: one pack of pencils (72 count)
1.1 hours: four, one-subject notebooks
4 hours: kids' backpack

Medical
1 hour: five days' supply of Claritin
5.8 hours: one month's worth of birth control pills at Planned Parenthood (sliding scale also available)
48 hours: 50mg Vioxx, 100 count (Canada)
84 hours: 50mg Vioxx, 100 count (U.S.)

Utilities
5.8 hours: 1 month basic phone service (not counting long distance)
19.3 hours: 1 month standard cable package plus Internet service from Time-Warner
27.8 hours: an average summer monthly City Public Service bill

Transportation
4 hours: a monthly VIA bus pass
1,940 hours: a Chevy Aveo
3,883 hours: 2004 Honda Civic EX
22,817 hours: 2004 H1 Hummer wagon

Entertainment
1.1 hours: a matinee movie ticket
3.5 hours for a new CD
9.4 hours: a pavilion seat to see Lynyrd Skynrd at the Verizon Amphitheater
3.7 hours: a lawn seat for the same show



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