At the end of the twentieth century and in the beginning of the twenty-first, the quest for living wages and equal wages has once again been reconfigured. Movements for living wages have broadened their constituency, incorporating workers initially left out of minimum wage legislation. Similarly, the fight for equal wages, initially settling for a narrow conception of equal pay for equal work, returned to a broader definition of equal pay for work of equal value. Both of these revived movements have at their very center the people who have been left behind in the wage regulations we have discussed so far: people in female-dominated and minority-concentrated jobs. These two precepts, living wages and equal wages, have become increasingly intertwined. Further, the debate about these issues indicates widespread (but by no means universal) acceptance of the idea that women as well as men support dependents. More than seventy years after the Women's Bureau attempted to expand the concept of breadwinner to include women, the new living wage movement is centered around the need for a gender-neutral family-sustaining wage.
Consider the story of Sammie Sims. In 1996, an article appeared in the Christian Science Monitor profiling Sims, a maid on Chicago, Illinois' “south side” who worked in a city-sponsored retirement home. Earning the thenminimum wage of $4.25 per hour, Sims expressed her frustration and sense of injustice about her situation. “I've just about had it; I'm paid next to nothing, ” she is quoted as saying. “The city has got to start paying us a wage we can live on.” While some might view working as a maid as inherently low-skilled work, Sims did not see it that way. She defined her work in terms of the care she gave the pensioners: “I love taking care of my elders and I work hard and do the best I can. But right feelings and hard work should pay something I can live on” (Tyson 1996:1).
The narrative implicitly told by the reporter who profiled her is as interesting as the story of Sammie Sims herself. Writing about the efforts of Sims and other Chicago workers to pass new laws that would raise their wages, staff reporter James Tyson described those initiatives as ones that “would enable a breadwinner to earn an annual income above the federal poverty line … for a family of four” (Tyson 1996:1, emphasis added). Sammie Sims