The term “living wage” is used in various contexts, typically used to describe the hourly income required for a worker to afford basic necessities, like housing, medicine, and food.
A living wage differs from minimum wage, which is a government mandated minimum hourly wage, while living wage involves many other socioeconomic factors. In MIT’s introductions to living wage, a living wage differs by region due to differences in housing costs and everyday necessities; for example, a living wage in a metropolitan city would be much higher than a living wage in a rural area. A living wage is also often tied with the cost of raising a family.
The phrase “living wage” became popular in 1886 with the founding of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which promoted the idea of a living wage that allowed workers to be able to support an “American standard of living”. Since then, the phrase living wage closely correlates with pro-union and workers rights organizations.
The term “living wage” is typically used and advocated for more by the left than the right. This is because liberals who employ the phrase living wage usually argue that the current minimum wage is lower than what is required to afford basic necessities, attributing poverty to employers underpaying their employees. Hence, many call for the minimum wage to be increased to a living wage, allowing workers to be able to meet their basic needs and raise a family.
Conservatives, on the other hand, are usually against the idea of a higher minimum wage, and are less likely to use the term “living wage,” or hear it as a rallying cry for policies they disagree with. Conservatives typically believe that raising the minimum wage would result in less jobs, as it increases the operational costs of businesses, prompting businesses to either close, hire less people, or move elsewhere. “The real minimum wage is always $0,” they argue. Furthermore, some see raising the minimum wage as an interference with the free market, opposing any and all mandates on the private sector. Steven Malgona writes for The City Journal that raising the minimum wage to the proposed national living wage would eradicate more than 200,000 jobs. Malgona criticizes the living wage movement as being Marxoid and elitist, with poor understanding of free market policies and would bring devastating consequences to urban prosperity.