We need Living Wage because that’s what can make life reasonable for low income folks. Having Living Wage laws would mean that things would cost more, but we would spend far less supporting low income people and pay a bit less in taxes.
I don’t think Americans care so much that there are some billionaires. There will be billionaires regardless. What we all care about is that we ourselves can live a decent life on what we earn. We just want a nice place to live, and a feeling that our future is secure. We have no interest in giant boats, or mansions in foreign countries, most of us. We just don’t want to bust our butts only to fall further and further behind, like we’ve been doing for decades.
This is my considered opinion, backed by no particular evidence.
In practical terms, Living Wage means that any person who performs a full time job, and does it well, should earn enough money at it that she lives above poverty level. That is, every job should pay enough to do that. No full time job should keep you in poverty.
This year the poverty line for a family of four is about $22K per year. That’s a bit under $11/hr, full time, all year. Eleven an hour provides basics, absolute basics, for you and your family. Rent, food, transportation, clothing, basic medical care. But remember, to earn $22K, you’ll have to work full time all year. For various reasons, that’s hard to do, so most people earning $11/hr don’t bring home $22K. Nor do they usually get much in the way of bennies. That means that $11 an hour doesn’t really cut it, practically speaking, because it offers no room for error. Missing work for two weeks because of illness would put you below the poverty line, unless your employer offers sick leave. You might also lose your job for being absent.
Poverty line wage also doesn’t cover health insurance, which runs $10,000 a year at minimum. Nor savings for retirement beyond Social Security.
So we cannot use the poverty line to define Living Wage. If we stack up all these needs, Living Wage for a family of four turns out to be in the range of $35K-$40K per year, near the average wage.
Here is why the rest of us need Living Wage too:
If a person cannot earn enough money working full time to provide for basics, the rest of us have to buy the essentials she can’t afford. We do this through additional taxes or through charitable contributions.
If she gets ill, she goes to ER. Very expensive, we pay. Not enough food, we pay for food vouchers. If she has no way to get to her job, we pay because she is unemployed. Same if she can’t afford child care while she works. If the only food available is unhealthy, we eventually pay because of poor health for the entire family. If the school is lousy, we eventually pay for ignorant citizens plus another generation of low wage earners.
We should like to pay for none of these things, but we will continue to pay as long as people earn less than a Living Wage. For the good of all of us, Living Wage should be the law of the land. We can afford nothing less.