10 States Where the Minimum Wage Isn’t a Living Wage
“The idea of a living wage is that workers and their families should be able to afford a basic, but decent, life style that is considered acceptable by society at its current level of economic development,” reads a 2011 report by the International Labour Organization, a U.N. agency. “Workers and their families should be able to live above the poverty level, and be able to participate in social and cultural life.”
The debate over a living wage in the United States arguably began around 1912, when various states began enacting minimum wage laws that protected women and children. Although the concept itself is fairly intuitive, actually pinning down what constitutes a living wage has proven to be an enormously difficult task. Not only is the definition of “basic, but decent” ultimately subjective, but the amount of money that someone needs to earn in order to meet the costs of living depends on a huge number of regional and personal factors, such as rent and personal health.
As the U.S. Supreme Court put it in 1923, when it rejected the legality of those nascent minimum wage requirements for women and children (Adkins v. Children’s Hospital):
“The standard furnished by the statute for guidance to the board is so vague as to be impossible of practical application with any reasonable degree of accuracy. What is sufficient to supply the necessary cost of living for a woman worker and maintain her good health and protect her morals is obviously not a precise or unvarying sum — not even approximately so.”
Obviously — or so some of the nation’s top thinkers argued in 1923. Fourteen years later, the Supreme Court reneged on its position.