Wages Up but How High is Fair?

Chicago-Raise-the-Min-Wage-Rally-300x189New Orleans       Walmart has announced that over a half-million of its workers will get a raise to $9 now and up to $10 sometime in 2016 at the cost of one-billion dollars.  This is good news, so I won’t remind people of the Pinocchio stories the company has told for years about its so-called average wages.  The company is joining Gap, Target and others that have already said they are raising wages.  Aetna Insurance several weeks ago raised all of its workers to $16 per hour to lead the way.  Economists speculate that the labor market is finally beginning to tighten and that Walmart is recognizing the inevitability of wage increases, so wanted to jump ahead of the pack, embrace reality, and try to change its reputation as one of the country’s worst employers.

All of this is happening as President Obama tries to breathe some new life into his proposal to raise the minimum wage in various steps to $10.10 per hour which has been dead-on-arrival in Congress since it moved from his mind to his mouth.  Not to rain on the parade, but Congress will no doubt use the announcement by Walmart as the nation’s largest private sector employer as evidence that there is no need for new federal minimum wage legislation.

All of this is happening as many of us have been in lengthy conversations in recent months about how to move forward on a different “living wage” strategy.  The “fight for fifteen” has won huge publicity, but aside from Aetna, very little take-up, and, practically speaking, the notion that minimum wage fast food workers might suddenly find their wages doubling from the $7.25 they are earning now ranks somewhere next to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny on the reality scale.

What is fair and practicable?  Our brothers and sisters in Canada have tried to navigate their campaigns around figures produced by respected nonprofits that include day care cost and other facts that live for many of us only in our dreams.  A recently released poll in the States though found that there is 75% support among Americans for a $12.50 minimum wage achieved by the year 2020.  The same poll found that even in the South that number was supported by 74% including over 50% of Republicans.

We tried to reverse engineer the math using statistics based on the average housing cost in our cities for a single person to rent an apartment and assuming that would represent one-third of their income.  The results were interesting and would seem to resonate with people.  Using this formula a “living wage” now would look like the following:

Little Rock      $11.53

Baton Rouge   $11.59

Houston          $13.00

New Orleans   $13.24

Dallas              $13.56

The wage train is starting to rumble forward finally.  These numbers seem fair and make sense.  It’s campaign time!

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Please enjoy Green Day singing Working Class Hero

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