Today, I am going to pick on livable wages. If you have never heard this term, you can school yourself here. I am going to jump right in with the assumption that my readers have a base knowledge about livable wages.
Here is what I never understood about the whole concept: the actual wage figure is dependent upon one’s family situation. The average livable wage for a single person is $12.79, but the livable wage for working parent of two children, with the other parent not working, is $22.53. How can we base wages on family make up?
So, does that mean that if a guy marries a woman with two kids and they decide that she will stay at home, then he should get a $10 raise? That is the part that never made sense to me. Does an employer have to pay for an employee’s lifestyle choices? I don’t get that.
I also question their figures. According to the figures, my household does not earn a livable wage, yet we have all of our basic needs met and still manage charitable giving. We pinch pennies, but we are able to live on this wage. I am not saying they should base the calculations on my personal lifestyle. What I am saying is that there is such a wide variety of choices people make that to name a livable wage figure is completely arbitrary. (You can look at the breakdown of how they figure the needs here. Look under Livable Income/Basic Needs.)
How much money we make and spend all boils down to personal choices. For example, my husband and I decided that for now he should stay at his job (making an un-livable wage) because the hours are predictable and he gets a lot of vacation days. We made a personal choice that puts family time before money. He knows others who have left his company for a higher wage, but are now putting in more hours and even traveling. That arrangement does not suit our family.
Work schedule is an intangible factor that is not considered by the need calculation. I once worked at a job that paid lower than I would have liked because the hours were 9-5 with an hour lunch, but we got paid for an 8 hour work day. At the time I was a single mom and I needed the later starting time to make daycare drop-off easier. I also liked having the hour for lunch to run errands. I could not place a dollar amount on those benefits.
Contrary to the premise behind the livable wage figures, a person’s family situation should not determine their wage. An employer determines how much money the position is worth and what other benefits it will include. It is our choice whether or not to take the job.
Let’s say that you are forced to take a job or go hungry – as is often the argument made. In that case, you still have control over how you spend your money. You can choose not to spend the amounts of money that are allocated in each area used to figure the livable wage. For example, it says that a two parent household with one wage earner and two kids spends $592/month on transportation. Well, if you choose to take a lower-wage job, you could also choose to spend less on transportation. Or you could choose to spend less than $785/month on food or less than $270/month on personal expenses (that figure is excluding clothing). If you make changes to your own budget, your non-livable wage could work fine for you.
Another good point was made by Jeremy Ryan when running for City Council. The VT Livable Wage Campaign asked the candidates two questions. Part of his response said, “I also believe in the right to work. If someone wants to work and is lacking in skills, but willing to learn and work at a lower wage, we should allow them the opportunity. I dislike mandatory policy that would exclude people from serving our community.”
My point is that employers and employees should have the freedom to determine the situation that works best for them. The government should not force this issue. It not only takes away the employers’ rights to make their own business decisions, but it also takes away the workers’ rights to find jobs that suits their personal needs.