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Customers checkout at a supermarket in Burlington, Vt., on June 16, 2023.
Customers checkout at a supermarket in Burlington, Vt., on June 16.Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images file

Exploring the living wage: Meet the Press Reports

MSNBC’s Lindsey Reiser travels to Cleveland, Ohio to discuss the debate over living wage with working families.


The debate over what constitutes a living wage in the United States differs from person to person. MSNBC’s Lindsey Reiser set out to ask Americans what they believe makes up a living wage.

Kanika Williams is a single mother of four boys who lives in Cleveland. She has three part-time jobs, including cleaning homes, delivering food and sorting mail. 

“[A living wage is] being able to afford your monthly bills, being able to put a potion back for savings,” Williams said. 

Michael Shields of Researcher for Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal nonprofit economic policy institute, says there is a “disconnect” between how much wealth working people make and what is reflected in their pay.

“I think it comes down to power,” Shields said.

Since 1980, most Americans saw a modest income growth, but the income for the top one percent has grown much faster. 

Meanwhile, inflation has risen steadily since 2005, and it reached a 40-year high in 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, wages adjusted for inflation have only slightly risen. 

This discrepancy has led to growing calls to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour. Congress has long discussed the issue. Advocates of the wage increase argue that it would lift people out of poverty. Critics say that it will cost jobs. 

Williams, who makes less than $20 per hour, says she is afraid to lose benefits if she makes too much money.

“They’re going to take probably Medicaid or food stamps. So, when you take my food stamps, what I’m trying to build is gone,” Williams said.

While Williams is not free of financial worries, she does not let it control her life. 

“Just because you’re living on minimum wage doesn’t mean you have to act like you poor, or you have to be all down and depressed all the time,” Williams said. “Find the light in the dark, and just keep moving forward because you can’t stop.”

For more on the debate over a living wage, check out the latest episode of Meet The Press Reports.