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Life at America's bottom wage

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Oklahoma doesn't have high living costs, compared with some other states. But to cover the basic needs of a family of four here typically requires an income of more than $33,000, according to an online budget calculator created by the liberal Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

At $5.15 an hour, it would take three full-time jobs for a family to earn that much.

Many minimum-wage workers, it's true, don't have children. Often they are young people on their first job.

But the Hosier family is not unusual. Of the workers who stand to reap higher pay if Congress raises the wage floor, the vast majority are adults, most work full-time, and about 1 in 4 have dependent children, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Moreover, they are often the sole breadwinner in the household. Of families with children, nearly half of those who would be affected by a minimum-wage hike get all their earned income from one low-wage worker.

The issue is important politically. Democrats, now in control of Congress, have made raising the minimum wage a top priority in their 100-hour legislative push for change. It would also have its most significant economic effect – positive and negative – in the South and Great Plains where states generally haven't set their own higher minimum wage.

Few states will see a greater impact than Oklahoma. As of last year, the Sooner State led the nation in the share of hourly workers (4 percent) who earn no more than $5.15 per hour.

That means many families such as the Hosiers will see a boost in pay if the law changes. But it means that negative ripple effects will also be magnified, as businesses confront a big jump in labor costs. Many employers will have to raise prices, and some are likely to hire fewer people as a result.

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