The U.S. Declaration of Independence espouses equality. The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance espouses justice for all. The U.S. Constitution espouses the general welfare, i.e., the common good. Yet, according to a 2017 report by the Wall Street Journal, the median pay for the CEOs of the largest U.S. companies was $12.1 million. At the same time, the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, and has not increased since July 2009. Many refer to the federal minimum wage as "starvation pay." Millions of low-wage workers in our country work full-time and still can't afford life's necessities. And the gap between workers' wages and the cost of necessities is growing. Are we living up to our American democratic values and virtues of equality, justice, and the common good with the U.S.'s income inequality at an all-time high?

A living wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet basic needs like food, housing, clothing utilities, transportation, health care, and child care, in consideration of location and type of household. As many full-time workers in the U.S. do not earn enough to support themselves and their families, living wage campaigns are becoming more visible and frequent. These campaigns assert that a living wage is a human right and that the employee, employer, and the community all benefit from a living wage. Employees would be more willing and better able to work, employers would have less costs associated with employee turnover or reduced productivity, and the community would be helped by having citizens able to purchase their basic needs. Moreover, the lack of a living wage has been linked to other workplace abuses and labor-rights violations. Our fellow citizens cannot fully participate in our democracy if they are forced to work multiple jobs and expend all their time and energy to simply survive, and our democracy cannot flourish without the participation of all its citizens. Here are some suggestions for how you and your colleagues can help secure a living wage for all citizens:

  • Support campaigns to ensure that no full-time worker lives in poverty by raising the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour.
  • Join a political-action group or take a service trip that focuses on advocating for a living wage and other worker's rights, like the right to breaks, potable drinking water, well-maintained toilet and handwashing facilities, and overtime pay protection.
  • Support the labor movement to ensure that workers can engage in collective bargaining to have a say in their own economic futures.
  • Join an advocacy group that focuses on establishing equal pay for women.
  • Support legislation to raise the minimum wage, legislation that makes it easier for workers to organize and bargain collectively, and legislation that establishes equal pay.
  • Encourage large employers to provide on-site child care.
Habib Todd Boerger in Practicing Democracy at Work