The Case for the Living Wage

The Case for the Living Wage

The Case for the Living Wage

The Case for the Living Wage


This well-documented brief demonstrates that both poverty and excessive economic inequality are inimical to the maintenance of a healthy republic, and notes that providing a living wage is not only fair, but is superior to any other public policy such as cash transfers (or the Earned Income Tax Credit) in the effort to fight poverty.


In her recent book, Barbara Ehrenreich ably and aptly portrayed the world of the low-paid in the United States. Writing pungently and movingly about working as a waitress and motel housekeeper in Florida, a maid in Maine, and a Wal-Mart “associate” in Minnesota, she has put a human face on the poverty and inequality that now pervade American life despite years of sustained economic prosperity. We meet a waitress named Gail who is on the verge of being homeless because she cannot afford the deposit and first month’s rent required to lease an apartment. We share time with Carlie while she manages to enjoy soap operas as she cleans one motel room after another. We cringe at the description of Holly, one of the maids in Maine, who works despite having an injury because she cannot afford to take the time off, and then apologizes to her boss for bothering him with her problem. We are touched by Melissa, a fellow Wal-Mart employee who “calculates in very small units of currency,” but who brings Barbara a sandwich when she learns that she is living in a motel without a kitchen.

Polly Toynbee wrote a parallel book for Britain. Her work included stops at a hospital, a school kitchen, a cake-packing firm, a child care center, and a nursing home. We admired but despaired for the fate of Winston, who works as a low-wage porter at a hospital and who will, if everyone else’s experience is any indication, never move very far up the wage scale despite his ardent desire to do

1. Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001).

2. Polly Toynbee, Hard Work: Life in Low Pay Britain (London: Bloomsbury, 2003).

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