A living wage: living with dignity edition

The concept of a living wage is one that just makes good sense to me.  A wage should be enough to live on, right?  Because it’s a wage?  Because what’s the point if it doesn’t?  Because … because we have to work to support ourselves and our families and if the wage isn’t enough to live on surely it makes no sense?

(As I ask these questions, my expression gets progressively more and more confused.  I assure you it’s very cute.)

But I realise I am not everyone, and so when a group of very knowledgeable people put together some estimates of what a “living wage” would really be (covered by Eddie here and Ben here), I go “sounds fair to me” and other people go, “But I could live on far less than that, these numbers are too high!!!”

What I’ve come to realise is that “living wage” means vastly different things to different people.

To some people, it means enough to tread water.  Enough to fulfil basic caloric requirements and pay for rent on the smallest place you can find (probably in Kawerau, or Gore, because if you claim you can’t afford rent and you live in Auckland, where all the jobs are, you’re just being demanding), wearing underwear from a $2 shop and using minimal power because you don’t need a television if you’re really struggling.

Honestly, I’m surprised I haven’t yet seen a comment saying “but you don’t need to go out even once a month if you really can’t afford to!!!”  And I will thank you not to link me to it if you see it.

To me, there’s an unspoken “with dignity” that sits after “living”.  It means more than the bare bones, more than scraping by, more than just making ends meet.

It means being able to save, so you have a safety net when things go wrong.  It means not shifting from flat to flat when the landlord raises the rent, moving the kids from school to school, and certainly never having the temerity to aspire to home ownership.  It means having treats – a day at the zoo, a movie, a bottle of wine, opportunities to bond and socialise and enjoy the company of your family and other people.

It means being able to hold your head up at the school gate because your kid can have a new pair of shoes (which aren’t shitty plastic that’s going to hurt their feet) to wear to school.

Sure, the kid could wear jandals, and nobody’s going to die without a glass of $10 sav, and takeaways are going to kill us all … but seriously.  What complete sociopathic lack of empathy do you have if you can’t even allow that human beings deserve lives which include enjoyment and reassurance and dignity?

And if you really are a middle class bastard motivated purely by self-interest, you know what else letting people live with dignity means?

People not becoming totally disillusioned with our society.  People not doing everything they’re told they have to do, only to feel like they’re never going to get ahead.  People not turning into criminals, breaking into your home, stealing your shit, and burning your fucking house down because they have been browbeaten and shat on and starved and shuffled from low-paying temporary job to low-paying temporary job until they have fucking snapped and said “fuck it, why the fuck not go eat the rich?”

People don’t have bread and you’re sitting back saying “Let them NOT eat cake, cake’s a luxury item!” and you don’t expect this shit to bite you in the ass?

A living wage is a wage that lets people live with dignity.  Is that so much to fucking ask?

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7 comments

  1. Raquel Mack

    You are so right. Unfortunately, the ‘haves’ have determined that the ‘have-nots’ are only ‘have-nots’ because they don’t try hard enough to be ‘haves’ and are thus undeserving of living with dignity.

  2. Amyclae

    I disagree completely with the concept of a ‘living wage,’ and the related idea of a minimum income (be it accomplished through direct payments from a horizontal governmental level or otherwise).

    In past generations, the quality of life was determined by class consciousness, piety, intellectual development, courage and even patriotism. Today, if one does not have *money* then one is worth nothing. Income is the measuring stick of worthiness, and those who advocate a living wage (either implicitly or explicitly) concede that wealth is an intrinsic (natural, contingent? Your choice of adjective) right of all those who participate in a modern society.

    As this post points out, boldly and inaccurately, wealth is directly tied to a person’s “dignity.” Not food, or housing (neither of which I believe are tied to a person’s dignity, but nevertheless the arguments for why they are tied ring a bit less hollow) much less those intangibles mentioned prior. A living wage goes beyond an ensurance of comfort, or even existence. Instead it becomes a matter of *consumption*. If you cannot consume, well, then the government needs to step in because a person who cannot consume goods/services is denied (a right? a liberty? I leave it you, dear reader, to choose the word). I cannot imagine a more absolute and total abidication to worst of the West’s (now normative?) values (i.e. radical individualism and capitalism).

    • V (verbscape)

      No, the post points out that TO QOT there is an implicit “with dignity” after the “living” part of “living wage”. I quote: To me, [emphasis mine] there’s an unspoken “with dignity” that sits after “living”.”

      If one does not have money, one is certainly not “worth nothing”, but one will find it really difficult to pay rent, power, phone, buy food, pay medical expenses (because if you are living under a bridge it’s possible you’ll get sick), buy new clothes when yours get old and fall apart (the fabric literally wears through), and on and on.

      QoT feels people should also be able to afford a piece of cake now and then, which you apparently believe is an “absolute and total abidication to worst of the West’s values (i.e. radical individualism and capitalism)” (and somehow defines their worth as people as how much cake they can afford). Be that as it may, it still stands that it is very difficult to live in this country without a certain amount of money. A certain “wage” that one can, say, “live” on. And yes, I do believe that if someone is working a 40 hour week they SHOULD have the fucking right to receive enough money to live on. THAT IS THE POINT OF WORK.

      As for this idea that in the past you could totally get by on “piety” and “patriotism”, I think you’ll find that there was homelessness and starvation in the past as well. Or do you just mean that people didn’t mind starving in the ~good old days~ as long as they had “intellectual development” and “courage”?

      However, if you think a minimum wage of any kind is so horrific because feeding the poor would uphold Evil Capitalism, may I direct you to these paragraphs of QoT’s post:

      “People not becoming totally disillusioned with our society. People not doing everything they’re told they have to do, only to feel like they’re never going to get ahead. People not turning into criminals, breaking into your home, stealing your shit, and burning your fucking house down because they have been browbeaten and shat on and starved and shuffled from low-paying temporary job to low-paying temporary job until they have fucking snapped and said “fuck it, why the fuck not go eat the rich?”

      People don’t have bread and you’re sitting back saying “Let them NOT eat cake, cake’s a luxury item!” and you don’t expect this shit to bite you in the ass?”

      People having enough money to live on is good for everyone.

    • V (verbscape)

      I just keep re-reading your last two sentences and boggling at the utter smug disconnect from reality they display.

      1. “a person who cannot consume goods/services is denied (a right? a liberty? I leave it you, dear reader, to choose the word).” ‘Health’. I choose the word ‘health’. And in extreme cases, ‘life’.

      2. I’m really failing to see how NOT having a minimum/living wage is more anti-capitalist than having a minimum/living wage. Aren’t mega-capitalists always wanking on about “market forces blah blah blah”?