The Living Wage: A Struggle for Stability

In today’s struggling economy, the idea of the living wage has changed drastically over the last century as the actual definition has become murky and twisted to fit what corporations and governments want to see not what is needed. Along parallel lines, the standard of living in the United States and abroad has no universal definition as global leaders try to stem the tide of virtual collapse in government by taking out more debt leading many citizens to do the same. What’s the difference? Governments area able to print their own money and borrow like there is no tomorrow, where everyday citizen without work or without benefits struggle to pay for everyday necessities like food, shelter, and other services. The idea and backing behind the living wage has lost a lot of momentum in recent years with companies taking advantage of loopholes in government policy and ignoring warnings to fix problems in their company just to make more money. As the movie Wall Street says, “Greed is good.” With no one to regulate this overwhelming tide of greed, the people on the bottom doing the heavy lifting will get squashed. However there is a silver lining, here is one company proving that a living wage is profitable:

Not only are private interest groups and companies big and small responsible for the problem, but government has not helped to stabilize the economy enough to boost spending and the economy. As history has proven, the more money people make the more they spend and visa versa. Several factors play into the barriers to a liveable wage as more laws regulating business has been stripped away. In public policy, a living wage or subsistence wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet basic needs for an extended period of time or a lifetime. This includes shelter, clothing, and nutrition. The living wage differs from minimum wage in the latter is set by law and as we have seen fail to meet the requirements for a living wage or in some cases so low that borrowing or application for top up benefits are needed. It also differs from a basic needs model that measures a minimum consumption level without regards for the income source.

The living wage can also be thought of as the wage needed to maintain a safe and decent standard of living within the community and have the ability to save for future needs and goals. The Standard of living refers to the level of wealth, comfort, material goods and necessities available to a certain socioeconomic class in a certain geographic area. A list provided by Wikipedia for factors included in the standard of living calculation includes:income, quality and availability of employment, class disparity, poverty rate, quality and affordability of housing, hours of work required to purchase necessities, gross domestic product, inflation rate, number of vacation days per year, affordable (or free) access to quality healthcare, quality and availability of education, life expectancy, incidence of disease, cost of goods and services, infrastructure, national economic growth, economic and political stability, political and religious freedom, environmental quality, climate and safety. Most see the standard of living as closely related to quality of life.

Some countries do not follow these definition to a tee and provide their own definition of what each represents. The living wage according to the United Kingdom and Switzerland means a person working 40 hours a week no additional income should be able to afford a specific quality of life or certain quantity of housing, food, utilities, transport, health care, and recreation. However in some cases child care, education, retirement, legal fees and insurance will cost more than the above. Living wage activists see the definition more as equivalent to the poverty line for a family of four. The amount of money earned per hour varies depending on location and family circumstances as the minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25 which in most areas of the country will not meet the living wage requirement as high rents or home prices in cities and the automobile dependent arrangements for suburban outlying areas causes the costs to soar for both. A standard of living is measured using standards adjusted for inflation such as income per person and poverty rate, but may include access and quality of health care, income inequality growth, educational standards and disposable energy. What it boils down to is the ability of people living in a time or place to satisfy their needs and wants.

Unfortunately the factors used to measure a living wage therefore standard of living are not completely reliable nor accurate as the number of people living in poverty increases and the wealthy become a minority. In 1990 a living wage campaign was launched by community initiatives in the United States to confront the growing poverty facing the working poor and their families. They argued that employee, employer and the community win with the living wage as employees are more willing to work which helps the employer to reduce worker turnover ratios leading to a better community life for their citizens. The poverty threshold is defined as the income needed for a household to be able to consume a low cost nutritious diet and purchase non-food necessities in a given country. The poverty lines measure household unites and living wage measures an individual worker. Others also use the term family wage concept meaning one sufficient to support not only the worker but the family as well.
The issue of standard of living and liveable wage has become somewhat of a controversy in the political arena pitting the working poor against big companies and their own government. The idea of a standard is thought to be different than the idea of a quality of life which includes not only the material standard of living but intangible factors such as those that govern human life such as leisure, safety, cultural resources, social life, physical health, environmental quality issues, etc. More complex means of measuring well being to make these judgements often become political therefore controversial. Comparing two nations or societies becomes very difficult as the definitions and priorities differ therefore the standards are different in what constitutes a living wage or standard of living making some places more attractive than others.

7 thoughts on “The Living Wage: A Struggle for Stability

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