The 'Living Wage'

It couldn't do any harm

In our newly wired world, a good clue to the nature of any reform movement is the quality of the opposition’s Web sites. The Web sites supporting "The Living Wage Movement" have a tatterdemalion, homemade feel to them. Data are often stale, and page links wander off into the cybervacuum. Opposition sites, however, like that of the Employment Policies Institute, a self-described "Entry-Level Employment Think Tank," are crisp and professional, chock-full of new surveys, reports, and statistical compilations.

An "Entry-Level Employment Think Tank" with a slick Web site? Hmm. Good thing that somebody with a lot of money is truly worried about entry-level workers.

The movement for a living wage is often dated from the 1996 strike by Yale students on behalf of higher wages for cafeteria workers. It is based on the rather straightforward principle that any mandated "minimum" wage standard should at least be at the poverty level, which the current $5.15 per hour minimum wage decidedly is not. Depending on the region, the minimum "living" wage is usually calculated to be in the range of $8-$10 per hour, although some advocates call for $12-$15 per hour with perhaps a sliding scale for family size.

The movement has had most success in California, although it has been gaining ground in virtually every major city in the country. Altogether, some eighty-two jurisdictions have passed some form of living-wage...

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About the Author

Charles R. Morris, a Commonweal columnist, is the author of The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown (Public Affairs), among other books, and is a fellow at the Century Foundation.