It used to be that discussion was about the "minimum" wage. That was always a difficult discussion because it is totally subjective. If a person is starving and you agree to give them a sandwich and a glass of water if they work for you for eight hours then it is a minimum wage (anything less and they would die and be unable to do the work). Then there is the official "minimum" wage -- which is completely fictitious. People are paid less than the minimum wage all the time -- sometimes legally and sometimes not but it definitely is not the least amount of money people are paid.
However, when we come to the concept of the "living" wage, it is really easy. One thing to recognize up front is that there is not a single living wage. A living wage will depend upon the expectations within a society. It will depend upon the general cost of living in the area. It will depend on individual circumstances -- do you have children or others dependent upon you, do you have additional needs that others do not have (blind, deaf, mobility impaired, ...), and so forth.
So, there is not a single living wage for all people. But it is easy to determine. Add up the costs of everything it is needed to live over a year and divide that by the number of hours that are considered reasonable in your society. Let's put together a case example for an "average" city in the U.S.
There are a number of categories that MOST people would agree on. There are also a number of other categories that people would not agree on (is a phone required? is recreation required? is television required? is air conditioning really needed? is a personal car required? is it necessary to be fashionable? ...) Minimum requirements will include such as:
- Utilities (water, heat, sewage, power)
- Health-related Costs (incl. toothbrushes, toilet paper, clothes washing, etc.)
There's a certain range within each category that is required. Sometimes you might find a great deal on an apartment (or live with your parents). Sometimes you can find used clothing that is acceptable. Specific numbers can definitely be argued about and I won't say that you're incorrect. However, here are some (not the only) realistic numbers.
- Shelter -- a studio apartment; $900/month -- $10,800/year
- Utilities -- basics for a small apartment; $100/month -- $1200/year
- Food -- for one person, no fast food, no eating out; $8/day, $250/month -- $3000/year
- Clothing -- 3 pairs of pants, 2 underwear, 4 shirts, 5 pairs of socks, 1 pair of shoes, 1 coat -- $200/year
- Health-related Costs -- [# taken for an Affordable Cost policy for an unemployed single person] -- $340/month plus $40/month for medications/co-pays; approx. $4500/year.
This totals $19,760 for a year. For simplicity, round it up to $20,000. If we assume that working a 40-hour week for 50 weeks/year is reasonable then that is 2,000 hours. So, a "living wage" for a person with no special needs is $10/hour NET. I emphasize NET because this is what they have to have in order to pay for it all. If they have to pay country/local taxes or union dues or anything then that is added to the NET requirements.
So, we have determined a "living" wage. Even assuming that you agree with the above estimates the numbers can be moved around. If you qualify for food stamps, you might reduce your needs for food. If you can get subsidized housing, you might pay $500/month. But the foundation needs stay the same. Note also that there are no costs for childcare listed -- this is for a single person with no additional needs.
But society cannot afford to pay such!!! This is the statement that is echoed by businesses and wealthy politicians. It the next blog (hopefully -- I get distracted
Meanwhile, what things do you consider needed to live? Do you currently live on less? How do make it happen?