The story of contemporary minimum wage policy in Britain and the United States is not complete without an analysis of the living wage campaign.1 In many ways, it is a part of the push for national minimum wage policies in both countries, as it is decidedly animated by the same general goal, namely the reduction of poverty, and is composed of many of the same organizations that are active in minimum wage politics. However, there are some important differences as well.
First, there is the matter of the specific goal sought, in that a “living wage” is fundamentally different from a “minimum wage.” The latter is any legally mandated wage that must be paid by an employer, whereas the former is a wage sufficient to provide a decent living for the affected worker (and perhaps for his or her family, too). Of course, a minimum wage could be set high enough to be a living wage, in which case the two would be synonymous. At the same time, a living wage could be obtained by mechanisms other than legal compulsion, through voluntary action by an employer, for example, or through collective bargaining.
Second, there is the issue of the targets of the campaign. Minimum wage battles have historically been fought at the national level in both countries and at the state level in the United States. Occasionally, as we saw in Santa Fe, San Francisco, and Albuquerque, a local government will enact a general
1 On living wage movements in general see Deborah Figart, ed., Living Wage Movements: Global Perspectives (London: Routledge, 2004).