Money

Can you build wealth on minimum wage? One article says yes and triggers backlash

A man named Ben, who chose not to give his last name, dressed as the McDonald's mascot Ronald McDonald, participates in a protest for higher wages for fast food workers in New York City.
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A man named Ben, who chose not to give his last name, dressed as the McDonald's mascot Ronald McDonald, participates in a protest for higher wages for fast food workers in New York City.

The United States federal minimum wage has been a flat $7.25 an hour since 2009, though the cost of everything from housing to health care has risen drastically. Now, an infographic from InvestmentZen, and republished with caveats by Jeff Desjardins on Business Insider, has stirred up controversy by maintaining that, even on minimum wage, you can still build wealth.

The infographic offers ten tips, the first of which is "Move to an affordable city" such as Detroit, MI, Jackson, MS, or Akron, OH. Yes, becoming a transplant can be difficult, but it's also crucial, since "you can't make minimum wage, live in an expensive city and be wealthy."

It suggests that you find a place to live for $600 a month, including utilities, and ideally with someone to share costs, and then commute to work by way of a used bike.

Keep bills low by eating at home, it advises, and by buying clothes second-hand, canceling pricey subscriptions and having fun for free.

Then, once you've streamlined, start making money on the side and investing it wisely.

Although each individual piece of advice could serve as a solid money-saving tip, the cumulative effect, and the idea that even managing to do all these things could help you "build wealth" as opposed to merely survive poverty, has rankled readers.

Critics charge that, by over-emphasizing personal choice, the infographic obscures the most important point: That poor economic conditions are largely to blame for the fact that minimum wage workers struggle to get by, and expecting individuals to somehow bootstrap themselves to prosperity is unfair. No amount of thrift can make up for the fact that you're making under $10 an hour.

They also point out certain fallacies in the graphic itself. For example, it neglects to account for taxes.

It also both advises selling your car and using your car to drive for Uber in your free time.

And certain to-dos can feel not just tone-deaf but even lacking in compassion.

Visual Capitalist's Desjardins tells CNBC that "after re-publishing the infographic [from InvestmentZen], we ended up retracting it from our site." He adds, "In hindsight, we realized the tone of the piece was wrong and we removed it after receiving many fair criticisms."

InvestmentZen has not yet responded to requests for comment.