The phrase in vogue today with advocates of minimum wage laws—laws forcing employers to pay employees more than they otherwise would—is “living wage.” But, apart from laws mandating a minimum wage, this phrase has no referent in reality. And laws dictating minimum wages are immoral.
To get a sense of how widespread are calls for a so-called “living wage,” consider some recent news stories:
- Some fast-food workers are “demanding $15.00 per hour” for their work, and recently many such workers walked off the job to show they’re serious. Some call that rate a “living wage.”
- California legislators recently passed a bill raising the state’s minimum wage from $8 per hour to $10 per hour by 2016. In this case, that is the so-called “living wage.”
- “The Milwaukee County Board will take up a living-wage ordinance this fall”—the rate in this case would fluctuate according to “federal poverty guidelines.”
- The District of Columbia considered (and rejected) a bill to force “Wal-Mart and other large retailers . . . to pay their employees a ‘living wage’ of at least $12.50 an hour.”
The fact that no one can agree on what a “living wage” is—is it $10, $12.50, $15, or some other number plucked from the air?—indicates that the phrase is totally arbitrary.
If the phrase means anything in literal terms, it would have to mean a subsistence wage. But no advocate of the so-called “living wage” wants to forcibly reduce wages to that required for mere subsistence. Instead, everyone who advocates a “living wage” wants to force employers to pay workers more than they currently do. (Although minimum wage laws would be immoral in any case, the fact is that most people who earn the minimum wage don’t supply the sole income on which their household is living, anyway.) . . .