Just last month, the federal minimum wage — currently at $7.25 an hour — celebrated its three-year anniversary. At that rate, a security guard, retail store clerk or nanny working full-time for minimum wage makes just $15,080 a year. That’s barely above the poverty line for a single person ($11,344) and far below it for a family of four ($22,314).
In this week’s episode, Sister Simone Campbell talks about our poverty crisis and her belief that we need to replace minimum wages with “living wages.” Sister Simone is not alone in advocating for the living wage concept. Economist Robert Pollin wrote his book, The Living Wage: Building a Fair Economy, in 2000. It chronicled the living wage campaigns that swept the country in the 1990s. At the time journalist Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect , noted in a back-of-the-book blurb that “The living wage campaign is the most interesting (and under-reported) grassroots enterprise to emerge since the civil rights movement.”
We called Pollin to find out more about the concept and why it’s important not to sacrifice the welfare of workers in tough economic times.
Theresa Riley: What is a living wage?
Robert Pollin: Conceptually the idea of a living wage emerges out of social movements and thinking about what it takes for people to live a minimally decent life. There’s a great book by Lawrence Glickman – it’s called A Living Wage: American Workers and the Making of a Consumer Society– and he defines it as “a wage level that offers workers the ability to support families, to maintain self-respect, and to have both the means and the leisure to participate in the civic life of the nation.”