1. What’s a living wage?
The living wage is a measure of meeting basic living needs. A living wage is market-based and geographically-specific in that costs of living vary within and across the United States. A commonly used method for computing the living wage in the United States is the MIT Living Wage Calculator created by Amy K. Glasmeier at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
However, wages are only part of what we’re terming just employment. Policies regarding employment practices, such as scheduling, can result in employees not earning enough money to meet their basic living needs. Said another way, if an employee is paid a “living wage” per hour but only working 20 hours a week, or every other week, that wage can hardly be characterized as a just wage.
2. How is a living wage different than the minimum wage?
In the U.S., the federal government establishes the national minimum wage. However, an increasing number of states and county/municipal governments have enacted laws/ordinances that set the minimum wage at a level higher than the federal minimum wage. In the United States, the living wage is higher than the federal minimum wage, which has lost purchasing power in part because it has not been increased to keep up with rising costs of living.
Some municipal governments have established living wage policies which cover the municipality’s direct workers, while other municipalities have enacted living wage policies which require contractors doing business with the municipality to provide a living wage to their employees.
3. Why study living wage policies?
Adoption of a robust living wage policy represents an institutional commitment to the dignity of each and every employee and contractor working in an organization. Since the legal minimum wage doesn’t meet an individual’s minimum basic living needs, it has been left up to employers, in lieu of government action, to address whether or not employees are paid a living wage.
4. Why study living wage practices?
Initially, the Living Wage Policy Study was about researching the prevalence and nature of living wage policies. In conducting the research and discussing the issues with human resource practitioners, it became clear that while few institutions had adopted living wage policies, a number of institutions had likely adopted pay practices that were designed to or resulted in employees being paid a living wage. So the project was enlarged in scope to cover both living wage policies and living wage practices.
5. Why study living wage policies in higher education?
Higher education is a significant portion of the economy (2.6% of U.S. GDP in 2009) and employs around 3.9 million people in the U.S. (2013). Colleges and universities, like all organizations, are subject to cost pressures and have turned to outsourcing and downsizing, not unlike for-profit corporations. However, unlike corporations, colleges are generally fixed in terms of location. While an institution might expand or add branch campuses, rarely do they completely relocate.
There has also been increasing public concern and discourse about the cost of higher education. Understandably, students and their families are concerned about college costs; my experience is that relatively few students and/or parents realize that there are many workers and contractors who receive inadequate wages despite high and ever-increasing tuition costs.
6. Why study only public and non-for-profit private institutions?
Most public and private non-profit educational institutions are fairly similarly structured. For-profit private institutions are excluded from the study because those schools are structured less homogeneously than public and non-profit private institutions, and some for-profit institutions have numerous campuses and locations.
7. Why only study institutions in the United States?
The study is confined to institutions in the 50 states and the District of Columbia because they are covered by the U.S. federal minimum wage. Non-U.S. institutions and institutions in U.S. territories are excluded from the study.
8. Is there a cost for participating in the Living Wage Policy Study?
There is no financial cost for institutions to participate in the Living Wage Policy Project. Institutions participating in the study agree to provide institutional data and complete brief surveys. Participants in Phase 3 and Phase 4 of the Living Wage Policy Study agree to be interviewed for the project.
9. Who is funding the Living Wage Policy Study?
The Living Wage Policy Study is not currently supported by any external funding. The study is being funded by Dr. Weidner’s research funds, supplemented by the work of SJU Summer Scholars, the Department of Management’s work study students and research assistants, and academic and professional colleagues (in multiple institutions) who have been generous with their time and advice. Dr. Weidner was awarded a Research Fellowship Grant from SJU’s Pedro Arrupe Center for Business Ethics in support of this project for 2018-2019.