Frequently Asked Questions About A Living Wage
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What is a living wage?
A living wage is the annual income a person would need to earn in order to live comfortably in a given location. A living wage is calculated based on the specific costs of living in a city or county; things like housing costs, food, transportation, and insurance costs all play into the living wage calculation. The living wage in New York City, for instance, is among the highest in the nation because the cost of living tends to be among the highest in the country.
What’s the difference between the minimum wage, a subsistence wage, and a living wage?
The minimum wage is the minimum hourly wage set by either state or federal law. Minimum wage is the lowest wage an employer can pay a worker without breaking the law. The U.S. Congress originally created the minimum wage with the intent to provide a living wage. Unfortunately the minimum wage was not protected from inflation or increases in the cost of living, and at $7.25 an hour is no longer a livable wage. If it had kept pace with increases in the cost of basic items like bread, milk, eggs, and sugar since 1968, the minimum wage would now be $10.15/hour. Had the minimum wage kept pace with executive-level pay increases, it would be $23/hour.
A subsistence wage is the amount of money someone would need to earn in order to meet their most basic biological needs. Literally a hand to mouth wage- with no extras and no savings or room for unexpected life events.
A living wage is the income required for someone to be financially independent, to meet their basic needs without relying on public assistance. This wage should provide adequate shelter, food, healthcare and other basic necessities. A living wage should allow you to maintain a comfortable life; it differs from a subsistence wage in that a living wage takes into account savings for unplanned expenditures, some leisure activity and saving for the future. A subsistence wage allows you to survive- a living wage allows you to thrive.
Should every district job pay a living wage?
YES! Folks who work a full time job should make enough money to cover their basic life expenses. No one should have to work multiple full time jobs to support their life. Our labor is all we have to trade for the money we need to live. No job should value our time and our labor so low that there are not enough hours in a week to earn a basic living.
How can I help ensure everyone in our district earns a living wage?
Become a union member and join our living wage campaign. Only through solidarity and our collective strength and action can we ensure all district jobs pay a living wage.
Rent is high in our city- does a living wage take that into account?
Yes, a living wage is different than a subsistence wage or minimum wage. When we ask for a living wage we are asking for a wage that allows us to pay our rent, pay our utilities, and maintain a decent quality of life. We deserve a wage that allows us to thrive, not simply survive.
If we raise wages will that disqualify people from public assistance?
When we have to ask this question, we know wages are too low. No person should work a full time job and be paid so little that they must rely on public assistance to get by. A living wage would allow working people to meet all their needs. If your wage is so low that you qualify for public assistance, then you aren’t earning a living wage.
How would paying people a living wage impact the community our students live in?
Many district employees who earn less than a living wage live in the same communities our students live in. When people earn more money, they are able to spend more money in their community. When folks spend more money in the community, the tax revenue generated by that spending goes up. Local governments then have more resources to spend on schools, public services, parks, and other community initiatives. Raising pay to ensure everyone earns a living wage helps the entire community.
Wouldn’t raising pay mean fewer jobs?
No. While this is a convenient scare tactic to try to convince workers they shouldn’t ask for what they deserve, it simply isn’t true. The district develops a budget each year that prioritizes how resources are spent. How the district spends resources is a value statement. Do we value students and the staff that serve them- or are our priorities elsewhere? We cannot claim to value the staff that serve our students when we pay them so little that they need public assistance to make ends meet. It is past time for the district to treat all employees with the dignity and respect they deserve. There are ample resources already in the budget to ensure every job is a living wage job; it is time the budget reflects the value our school support staff bring to our students.
If people want to earn more money shouldn’t they just look for a better job?
This is a talking point meant to distract and redirect anger away from employers who aren’t paying a living wage and get workers to fight amongst themselves. This tactic has been used for over a century to convince people that it is actually the workers fault for their low wages rather than the bosses fault for exploiting them. Don’t fall for this trick, it is designed to get the working class to fight amongst themselves for scraps rather than stand together to demand dignity on the job and fair pay. Before you fall prey to this trap, ask yourself these questions:
Does the work need to be done?
Do you want qualified, knowledgeable, professional staff working with students?
Do people work best under the constant threat of homelessness and food insecurity?
NO! We all deserve a living wage; from the maintenance worker who opens the building at first light, to the bus driver navigating through the snow, to the paraprofessional who greets students with a smile, to the cafeteria worker who feeds each day, to the after care specialist who sees them back to their parents, every school employee is valuable and deserves a living wage.
For more information contact Chris Bilal, PSRP Member Engagement Team Associate, at CBilal at baltu.org or Evan Lundeen, Assistant Director of the AFT PSRP Department, at ELundeen at aft.org
Thank you for taking action!