Sustainable Living Wages and Income
Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations. 1948. Article 23
Oftentimes discussions and deliberations regarding wages revolve around raising the minimum wage. In a globalized economy where the race to the bottom oftentimes seems to be gaining speed and momentum, CREA believes that it is critical that we raise the questions of social and economic sustainability and of human rights as we see the effects of wages and income on the lives of workers, their families and their communities. Often concealed within the data of globalization, profit and growth are the faces (and hearts and hands and minds and lives) of the workers on whom this globalized economy depends.
As we shall see, the Purchasing Power Index (PPI) methodology allows us, as researchers, to enter into the very intimate aspects of human life: the kind of homes one lives in, the food one eats, the clothing one wears, the education of one's children, the hopes and dreams for the futures... and the planning and saving that makes those dreams possible. The PPI is grounded in reality, in multiple realities in many parts of the world. Whether we are in Haiti or Mexico, in El Salvador or the US, in Kenya or China, human needs are the same. What differs are the culturally determined ways in which those needs are met.
The PPI looks at the costs of what is needed and the income that is needed to generate the purchasing power required to buy those items. It then examines the wages (when a person works for someone else) or income (when a person is self employed) that are needed to earn sufficient purchasing power. At any wage or income level, with benefits subtracted and bonuses added, any worker, anywhere in the world, earns just so many minutes of purchasing power. Those minutes of purchasing power are what any worker has to pay the costs of meeting his/her own needs and those of her/his family.
When purchasing power is not sufficient, something has to give. Needs are not met. The family does without. Without a decent house to live in or nutritious food. Without the kinds of clothes that symbolize a decent life. Without decent health care or transportation or so many things that provide for health and security. What they don't give up is their dream of a better life.
A job that provides a sustainable living wage or sustainable living income would make that dream possible. Why is it so elusive? Why is it not the standard upon which economic systems are built in any country, any place around the world? To work for economic justice as we do at CREA requires that we believe that change is possible. Changing hearts, changing minds leads to ideas and the collective will to change systems.
Ruth Rosenbaum, TC, PhD