are people earning low wages really worth it? Isn't the problem really
that they aren't skilled enough to be worth living wages?
2. But do all Vermonters deserve a livable wage?
why do we have to require businesses to pay a livable wage? What about
the business argument that a free market, increasing worker
productivity, and minimal regulation are the best way to a strong
economy with livable wages for all?
4. Aren't there some businesses out there that would like to pay living wages, but really can't?
But are people earning low wages really worth it? Isn't the problem really that they aren't skilled enough to be worth living wages?
training is a good thing, and we can all use more skills. But all the
training in the world won't help if most jobs aren't paying livable
wages. According to the 2002 Vermont Job Gap Study, 40% of all jobs
require only short-term, on-the-job training. The three fastest-growing
jobs in Vermont are waitresses and waiters, retail sales, and cashiers.
These are jobs that are low-paying (median wage of $5.60 an hour),
often part-time, without benefits, and are not highly skilled. Half of
all non-livable wage jobs are in the retail (sales), food &
beverage, education, and health care industries. Regardless of whether
people gain more job skills and move into better paying jobs, someone
will work these low-paying jobs. Shouldn't they get paid a living wage?
But do all Vermonters deserve a livable wage?
that's the heart of the issue. The Addison Eagle doesn't think so:
"Since when does the lowest common denominator in our working society
deserve to earn enough to live off?" (Editorial, 7/16/99). The Vermont
Livable Wage Campaign believes that all Vermonters deserve a livable
wage or income, and especially Vermonters who are working hard to get
by-often two or three jobs. People, businesses, and institutions like
the Addison Eagle who are opposed to livable wages are essentially
saying that all Vermonters do not deserve enough food, housing,
clothing, and heat to survive. They are saying that it is okay to pay
starvation wages and expect people to do without basic necessities. An
essential point that people opposed to livable wages are missing is
that non-livable wage jobs are not just the 'lowest common
denominator.' They are often socially important positions, like being
an educational assistant with developmentally disabled students, or
working in childcare. And even if the job is working as a cashier,
what's wrong with that? It's real work, hard work, and a job someone
has to do. People deserve a livable wage for doing it.
also worth saying again that when businesses do not pay a livable wage,
public assistance often makes up the difference. So when Vermonters
turn to food stamps or heating assistance because they are not making
livable wage, our tax dollars are subsidizing those businesses.
But why do we have to require businesses to pay a livable wage? What about the business argument that a free market, increasing worker productivity, and minimal regulation are the best way to a strong economy with livable wages for all?
that be nice? Unfortunately, it just isn't so-for several reasons.
According to a survey of businesses throughout Vermont performed by
Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, "There are a significant
number of employers currently paying at minimum wage levels without
benefits who, regardless of their ability to pay their employees more
in wages and benefits, will not do so until they are required to." How
else are the employees of these businesses going to earn a livable wage
besides the minimum wage being increased?
history shows that as the productivity of workers increases due to
increasing skill levels and new technology, and the profits of
businesses go up, that this doesn't necessarily translate into better
wages. The productivity of American workers increased significantly
from 1973 to 1997. However, during the same period wages fell by 16%
(when adjusted for inflation), corporate profits hit record levels, CEO
salaries have skyrocketed, and the richest 1% of Americans now control
42% of the nation's wealth. So, in this example, increased productivity
and profits did not result in increased wages and wealth for all but
only for business owners and management. Arguing for a "free" market
really means allowing employers to do whatever they want, regardless of
should also be mentioned that the free market is hardly free. For
example, over 250 billion in taxpayer dollars is given out annually as
subsidies to US corporations. US arms merchants alone get $500 million
a year to advertise and promote their products. When was the last time
that you heard business complaining about this interference with the
free market? There are countless numbers of examples of ways in which
our economy is already managed and subsidized through political
policies. The only question is, who is going to benefit from these
policies? Working people-the vast majority of Americans-or a wealthy
Aren't there some businesses out there that would like to pay living wages, but really can't?
there are. And for these businesses, we need to figure out solutions.
Perhaps employers who genuinely can't afford to pay a livable wage
could qualify for tax cuts that would allow them to pay livable wages.
There are other solutions as well, and there needs to be much
discussion as to what the solution is. But the days of balancing the
books of businesses on the back of their employees are over. Every
Vermonter deserves a livable wage.