Living wage?

中国日报网 2014-09-02 10:23



Living wage?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “The minimum wage I make is not a living wage.” Living wage?

My comments:

The speaker makes the minimum wage, the lowest amount of money an employer is allowed to pay a worker according to the law. Local law, that is, as the minimum pay is different from place to place. Anyways, the minimum wage is so low that the speaker says he’s not able to make a living on it.

Apparently, the speaker has to work another job in order to make ends meet, i.e. to pay all the bills.

That’s what he or she means by saying “The minimum wage I make is not a living age.”

Though often confused with each other, living wage really is not the same as a minimum wage. While the minimum wage is the lowest pay allowable by law, the living wage is a loosely defined common-sense term describing a wage that enables comfortable living.

Basic living, I should’ve said. Or reasonably comfortable, enabling families to get fed and clothed, to have health insurance, for instance and perhaps to have a little extra expense for leisure, such as visiting the cinema once in a while, once in a great while if needs be.

In other words, a living wage is perhaps a wage that assures a more or less adequate lifestyle according to common decency.

Decency is perhaps too lofty a goal to reach for, but a living wage should be something close, close enough at least to make that goal within, um, striking distance.

The minimum wage, as it is, certainly isn’t enough to enable anyone to talk about decent living. Just the other day, a woman in New Jersey was found dead while taking a nap in her car. She works FOUR jobs.

None of them living wage. We can definitely be certain of that – for otherwise there’d have been no need for her to work an additional three jobs at the same time. Her story runs as follows (The Star-Ledger, August 27, 2014):

Maria Fernandes worked four jobs, including shifts at two different Dunkin Donuts.

Often she drove from job to job, stopping along the road to catch a couple hours sleep, police said. She kept a container of gasoline in her 2001 Kia Sportage because occasionally she ran out of gas, authorities said.

Early Monday, the 32-year-old Newark woman pulled into a lot off Route 1 & 9 in Elizabeth for a nap. She apparently left the car running and was overcome by carbon monoxide mixed with fumes from the gas can that had overturned, police said. Fernandes was found dead in the car about eight hours later.

“This sounds like someone who tried desperately to work and make ends meet, and met with a tragic accident,” Elizabeth police Lt. Daniel Saulnier said.

Her tragic fate again demonstrates how modern-day society allows employers to treat its workers, workers who are the very people, don’t forget, who enable employers to make a profit, and often more than a decent profit at that.

If they help you make a decent profit, shouldn’t you help them make a decent living, a basic living?

Okay, that’s minimum wage not to mistaken with living wage. Here are more real world media examples of the living wage, as the situation is in various places:

1. Labour backs the living wage! No more will workers have to eat own-brand cardboard! The Milibands will politely ask that bosses pay us enough to stay alive!

The living wage for 2012 was announced on Monday. The Greater London Authority sets the capital’s rate at £8.55 an hour.

Loughborough University calls for the rate for the rest of Britain to be £7.45. The National Minimum Wage (NMW) was upgraded in October to £6.19 for over-21s, with tiers down to £2.65 for those ‘lucky’ enough to be in apprenticeships.

That means a serious shortfall between the NMW and even the lowest living wage. Workers aged 16 to 18 can earn less than half of the national rate. So what would Labour do?

Washed-up Blairite David Miliband wrote jointly with Unison general secretary Dave Prentis last weekend.

The pair came behind Labour leader Ed Miliband’s ‘commitment’ to the living wage - sort of. There will be no legislation, no compulsion to pay a fair rate. There will be no industrial action for an increase.

Instead there will be ‘incentives’ for councils and companies, and naughty low payers could be ‘named and shamed’.

Prentis and the Milibands, backed by Tory television personality and London mayor Boris Johnson, foresee an approaching ‘tipping point’.

If we wag our fingers long enough a few more bosses will pay the living wage. Then the rest will magically fall in line as well. What hopeless fantasy.

Few bosses grant even small concessions willingly. History shows again and again that the bully bourgeoisie will not share unless workers make it.

Talk of capitalists raising wages ‘voluntarily after seeing the economic and employment benefits’ cuts no ice.

The economy benefits them quite nicely as is. Today’s gap between rich and poor is as steep as the 1930s.

The Socialist Party calls for an immediate rise in the NMW to £8 an hour, as a step towards a minimum wage of £10 an hour.

- When is a living wage not a living wage?, November 7, 2012.

2. As the solstice approaches, darkness looms within our government. Like many Americans, I despair over the erosion of democracy in this country. The never-ending attacks on the most vulnerable people in the nation as a result of measures like the sequester, resulting in massive cuts to social programs, have left many people with little faith in the capacity of government to act in the interests of anybody who isn’t a billionaire.

Recently, however, the Massachusetts Senate lit up the darkness like fireworks on the 4th of July. On Nov. 19, the Senate voted to raise the state’s minimum wage from $8 to $11 an hour over the next three years. If this legislation passes the House, Massachusetts workers will earn the highest minimum wage in the United States. The Senate also voted to increase the minimum wage for restaurant workers from $2.63 an hour to half of the minimum wage.

Five years have passed since an increase in the minimum wage. This bill would index the minimum wage each year to keep pace with the cost of living.

This is the light of democracy in action. Senate President Theresa Murray deserves praise for pushing hard to get this bill passed. It’s important to remember, however, that this victory wouldn’t have happened without the efforts of scores of advocates, including labor unions, faith-based organizations, immigrant groups and other community-based coalitions that have been raising their voices tirelessly on behalf of a minimum wage increase. Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of labor and community groups, has worked painstakingly to gather enough signatures to put the question of a minimum wage increase on the November 2014 ballot.

Volunteers collected approximately 140,000 signatures in only 10 weeks. Those who signed the petitions supported the notion that those who are paid the least deserve more than what they now receive. Raise Up has also collected enough signatures for a second ballot question that requires workers to be offered sick time. The rights we enjoy today are products of the struggles of ordinary people, like the volunteer activists of Raise Up Massachusetts.

Over a cup of tea at The Haymarket Café, Kitty explained that a living wage is the wage necessary for a worker to meet basic needs, which include a decent home, food, clothes, health care and transportation.

- Sara Weinberger: Still not a ‘living wage,’ but higher minimum wage sorely needed,, December 16, 2013.

3. Kevin Burgos works full-time, earns more than the minimum wage and even fixes cars on the side to bring in extra money to support his family.

Yet, it’s barely enough to cover his basic living expenses, and Burgos finds himself in a $600 hole each month.

Burgos’ situation represents the woeful inadequacy of minimum wage and what could be a central question in the income inequality debates -- what is a person’s living wage?

For Burgos, it would mean an additional $6.50 an hour over what he makes now.

Currently, he makes $10.50 per hour as an assistant manager at Dunkin Donuts in Hartford, Connecticut. It's well above both the federal and state minimum wages of $7.25 and $8.70, respectively. It’s even more than the $10.10 per hour wage that Senate Democrats are fighting for. He brings in an extra $400 each month by fixing cars on the side.

He works 35 hours each week to support his family of three young children. All told, Burgos makes about $1,800 each month.

But his bills for basic necessities, including rent for his two-bedroom apartment, gas for his car, diapers and visits to the doctor, add up to $2,400. To cover these expenses without falling short, Burgos would need to make at least $17 per hour.

“I am always worried about what I’m going to do for tomorrow,” Burgos said.

- My minimum wage isn't a living wage,, January 22, 2014.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Wear and tear?

Faux pas?

Grasping at straws?

Character assassination?

Sharks were his pet project?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)



















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