$13.50 isn't poverty level. At 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, it works out to $27,000/year, which is just about the median individual income nationwide.
This yields an after-tax net of $1,750 per month. You can rent a 2 BR apartment in Louisville for $450 per month. The $1,300 left over is enough to live quite comfortably in Louisville--heck I don't spend much more than that in New York City (the difference is I pay $1,500/month on a studio).
You just got out of college. You went to a good school, you got good grades, and you worked hard. There are no jobs in your field.
You're bringing in 1750 a month, but 500 of that is going to student loans. 450 goes to rent. 200 for heating in the winter. Add in the rest of your utilities, and you're looking at 1300 a month. Do you have a car? 300 a month. Do you want to eat? You can probably get by on 150 for food.
But you have no health insurance. You have no savings. You cannot start a family because you can't support a family.
And, unless you get very lucky, this is going to be your situation until your loans are paid off. You will be 35 when your adult life can actually start.
But if you're unlucky - if you get sick, if you need to take care of your family, if nearly anything bad happens, regardless of how minor, you're probably completely and utterly fucked to an extent that a lot of people can't possibly realize.
It you went to a good school, and got good grades, you probably are not working this job. It seems that it has become fashionable to believe that every job should pay upper middle class wages or not exist at all. Hindsight should make it completely obvious what happened when unions forced that issue. Those jobs went away and are not coming back, they were never sustainable.
A 2BR in Louisville for $450 puts you squarely in the bad part of town. Aside from it being less safe and generally less enjoyable to live in (probably noisy neighbors, people up all night, etc.), you also are going to be commuting 20 - 30 mins per day to the other side of the city where the decent jobs are.
What family are we talking about? Just-married or with three kids, two cars and a dog, living in a rented apartment? There aren't that many things that can support irresponsibility or chronically poor decisions.
Anyway, I'd say yes, it does, because a partner is bringing in his/her $1,750, too, and $1,300+$1,750 is pretty OK.
I strongly agree with the overall direction of your comments on this subject, rayiner, and I think the workability of a median income in North America is vastly underrated.
... but it makes me a little sad that the median family household in this model requires both parents to be out of the house for 40 hours per week plus lunch hour plus commute. I mean, I think the Ward&June Cleaver myth was a little silly, and I don't think it's an Inalienable Right that every single family should be able to afford indefinitely supporting 4 people on one income.... but it seems like it would be better for society if kids got more parental energy than I can imagine them getting in this circumstance.
I mean, I'm not complaining about my job (ha, not at all), but I note that I'm barely a functional spouse when I get home after work, much less able to be a great father (not that I have kids). And even if I was, I'm not getting home until 7 or 8. Suppose my wife had the same schedule, what kind of (hypothetical) parents would we be?
I'm not saying it's Wrong or Unjust. I'm just saying it seems a little sad.
To be fair, these are 40 hour a week, 9-5 jobs. Very few $13.50/hour jobs require the kind of extended hours that professionals endure.
As for what kind of parents you'd be not getting home till 7-8... parents like my wife and I? The baby isn't old enough yet to really recognize either of us as anything more than a milk source, but when she gets older that will be her reality. I honestly don't think it's a big deal--my dad never got home till 8 each night, and traveled extensively and work the whole weekend, etc, and my brother and I have a great relationship with him. A lot of the "putting in face time" when it comes to kids is more for the parents than for the kids. Kids are perfectly happy playing with their friends at school/having the nanny take them around so long as they know that you're there and see you everyday.