issued by the

Living Wage Committee
of the
Committees of Correspondence

February 2000

Download a printable version: Livingwage.doc

"No business which
depends for existence
on paying less than living
wages to its workers
has any right to continue
in this country. By living
wages I mean more
than a bare subsistence level.
I mean the wages
of decent living."

President Franklin Roosevelt


Millions of people in our country work at low wage jobs that keep them in grinding poverty. Some full time workers are paid wages so low the family must live in a public shelter. Women and men in low wage jobs are the fastest growing sector of the workforce.    

Only federal legislation can secure a realistic living wage for all workers

In response, working people and their allies have been organizing to end this abuse and assure an income  adequate to sustain a family. The living wage idea has emerged in scores of communities around the country to counter the free wheeling capitalism that has devastated the lives of so many. A living wage movement  of growing strength and potential has come into being which has already won limited victories in 40 municipalities. This is a historic movement which gives hope that the negative trend in living standards for so many can be reversed. Immigrant rights organizations, trade unions, tenant and housing groups and the whole country will benefit from victories in the campaign for a living wage.

It will take a powerful coalition of many forces, communities and organizations to make this a reality

The idea we put forward here for consideration is that only comprehensive federal legislation can secure a realistic living wage for all workers. It will take a powerful coalition of many forces, communities and organizations, building on the existing movement, to make this a reality.

    We would like to celebrate the new millennium by starting to build that coalition now. Our basic proposal is an amendment to the Minimum Wage Act of 1938, which is further elaborated in the following pages.

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Everyday headlines blare that good times are rolling. But you have to get to the fine print to learn that the "good times" are not for everyone. Not by a long shot.

The richest 2.7 million people have as much income as the poorest 100 million

    We live in a country where the growing gap between rich and poor has become incredibly obscene and hurtful. The richest 2.7 million people have as much income as the poorest 100 million. The most affluent 1% control 40% of the nation's wealth. The Congressional Budget Office reports income disparity between rich and poor keeps growing. The bottom 80% of all U.S. households are now taking home 50% of the national income, down from 56% in 1977. Despite slight gains in the average worker's income in 1999, income inequality is at its highest level since the Census Bureau began tracking it. Working people are losing ground dangerously in the battle for a decent slice of the economic pie.

Nearly 1 in 3 workers has a job paying at or below the federal poverty level
    In the richest country of the world, where 12,000  Americans reported income of a million dollars or more in 1997, the average income of the poorest 20s% of households is estimated at $8800 for 1999, even less than they earned 20 years ago. By contrast, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services now sets the poverty level for a family of four at a minimal annual income of $17,000, about $8.50 an hour.

    Why such a growing gap between rich and poor in the world's wealthiest nation? Why this chasm when there are  sufficient resources to provide everyone with adequate food,  housing, clothing, education, medical are and a good standard of living? At a time when the bull market rewards investors, brokers and CEO's with unprecedented riches, the

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U.S. Conference of Mayors reports that emergency food requests jumped 16% from 1996 to 1997 and that the leading cause of hunger was wages that are at poverty level or below. At last count,  at least one family member was working in 40% of all families seeking emergency food aid.

The situation of people of color is worst of all

   The Dow Jones may be soaring, but John and Mary Jones  are in a dangerous slump. In 1998, nearly 1 in 3 U.S. workers had jobs paying at or below the federal poverty level, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Flipper jobs", hamburger flippers, mattress flippers, symbolize our economy. Poverty-level, low wage jobs for full time workers in restaurants, motels, hospitals, stores, public buildings and other services are an increasing proportion of the total job market. The Economics Policy Institute (EPI), says that 28.5 million workers earn less than $8.00 an hour, and a total of 44.2 million, or 40% of all workers (aged 18-64) earn wages that bring an income below the latest poverty level. Between 1973 and 1997  only the top 20% of all workers had an increase, in real dollar terms. The real income of the remaining 80% declined.

    In the U.S., with its deeply rooted racism, the situation of people

Unemployment is higher and wages lower in Latino and African American communities

of colors is worst of all. In 1997, 38% of all African American workers earned poverty wages, up from 33% in 1979. Forty-seven percent of Latino workers earned poverty wages in 1997, up from 34% in 1979. The small improvement in 1999 wages in communities of color came about because these communities benefited most from the increase in the minimum wage. But unemployment   rates continue  to  be  higher  in  Latino  and  African-American communities and the wage levels are still considerably lower than those of the general population .

    The minimum wage is considered a safety net, assuring workers an income able to sustain a family. The numbers, however, expose the hollowness of that claim.

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The minimum wage as now conceived and legislated is not the road out of poverty
Inflation  has eroded the real purchasing power of the minimum wage and its real value has declined since the late 1960's. A calculated by EPI, "the value of the minimum wage in 1997 was 18.1% less than in 1970". Senator Barbara Boxer of California says, "About 760,000 Southern California workers earn the state's minimum wage, which is now $5.75 an hour -- less than $12,000 a year.  The purchasing  power of this wage is about $2 an hour lower than the purchasing power of the minimum wage in 1968."

    While $8.50 an hour is needed to keep a family above the poverty level, Congress hassles and grouses over a law which brings the minimum wage to $6.15 in three years. Establishing a minimum wage was a major victory for working people and pressure on Congress must be unrelenting to pass laws supportive of low income workers. But the minimum wage as now conceived and legislated is not the road out of poverty. It condemns minimum wage workers, and those whose wage is  slightly above the minimum- about 20% of the work force, and their families- to a needy and demeaning existence.

A living wage movement has won a place for itself on the national scene
    The widespread demand for a living wage is one way working people have responded to this outrage. In 40 cities and counties in 17 states U.S. Workers have won living  wage aordnces es. Aliving wage movement, formed by community organizations, religious groups, trade unions and others, has won a place for itself on the national scene. As the struggle has evolved from area to area,  the trend has been to escalate the dollar demands and improve the benefit provisions like health insurance, sick pay and the right to form unions. Madeline Janis-Aparicio, director of the Los Angeles Living Wage Coalition says, "You have to look at the living wage movement in the context of the  utter failure of federal labor law, now so stacked against work-

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ers" (11/19/99, NYT). It is estimated that  more than 50 additional cities and counties are now considering living wage legislation.

    A limitation of this very significant development  is that the living wage victories apply to so few. While bringing real benefits

Forty cities have passed living wage laws - 50 more are considering them

to the workers covered, the ordinances affect only employees of companies with city contracts, or get city tax breaks. This comes to a tiny portion of the working population. When enacted in Los Angeles, for example, it affected 7600 workers, or 3/10 of 1% of the local work force. Nationwide living wage ordinances cover about 44,000 workers, researchers Robert Pollin, Stephanie Luce and Mark Brenner calculate. As Rev. Martin Luther King proposed more than 30 years ago, we  need to raise  the minimum wage to the level of a living wage that will keep working families out of poverty.  We need a living  wage for everyone who works!

    While profits skyrocket, most working people cannot even hold their own in this market-driven economy. If this goes unchallenged, living standards of the working majority will continue to plunge while a handful continue to accumulate unimaginable wealth. Only comprehensive federal legislation can begin to address this situation.

A limitation is that the living wage victories apply to so few workers
    The Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism has a proposal to the Living Wage movement that would extend the movement's reach and give it true national scope. We urge passage of a federal law making a realistic living wage the minimum wage. Moreover the law, to be meaningful, must provide for medical care and child care.

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Access to quality child care should be regarded as a fundamental labor concern.
When Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 (the minimum wage law) it outlawed "labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living   necessary for health, efficiency and general well-being of workers". That law guaranteed aminimum hourly wage, set the standard 40 hour work week, prohibited child labor and sex discrimination in wages.

    Conditions have changed in the last 60 years. Today working  people are in a desperate battle to keep gains they have won over the years  from being eroded. Low income jobs which force people to choose between buying food or medicine fit precisely "conditions detrimental to the maintenance of a minimum standard of living" proscribed in the

There is an urgent need to require employer financed health care
1938 law. The great increase in the number of two-parent and single-parent families where all parents are wage earners means that access to quality child care from early infancy should be regarded as a fundamental labor concern. Until single payer national health coverage is won, the 44 million without health insurance underscore the urgent need to require employer financed health care.  It is time to amend and extend the benefits of the 1938 Fair Standards Labor Law.

    Our legislative proposal would amend the law as follows:

(1) the minimum hourly wage to be fixed by a formula that allows a full time worker's earnings to provide the most basic personal consumption needs of a family of four.
(2) Congress  would be directed to extend the

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Medicare program so that every working family can be fully covered from the first day of employment to the end of the period covered by unemployment insurance.
(3) Congress would be directed to expand the Head Start program to provide child care accessible to every working family in a safe and developmentally appropriate environment.

A minimum wage between $10 and 12 is a reasonable expectation today

   The formula we propose to determine the minimum wage is similar to that usedby many non-profit organizations to arrive at a basic wage level required for a family's economic self-sufficiency. A wage between $10 and $12 per hour would be considered a reasonable expectation today. It would promote security in the entire economy by raising payrolls. The increase in payroll tax revenues would strengthen the Social Security system and  talk of privatizing it could be laid to rest. The development  of health care and child care industries, as proposed in the legislative draft, would create more living wage jobs that would be insulated against world economic crises.

This is a campaign to close the gap based on racism, sexism and discrimination

    We understand  the depth and gravity of the campaign we are proposing. It is a challenge to the inherent capitalist drive to maximize  profits  for the major  owners of capital no matter what misery it may create for millions in our country, and billions in the world. We know the profiteers who benefit from the present order of things will place all  kinds of hurdles and obstacles and create major problems to obstruct and prevent the achievement of so momentous a change. In taking this initiative we have no illusions about the difficulties and struggles ahead, or the magnitude of the task. It will be a very long and hard fight to win a greater measure of economic justice.

    The main beneficiaries of the campaign for a living wage for all would be women, people of color. immigrants, disabled workers and the lowest paid workers in the coun-

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The living wage movement will boost union organizing and should be combined with it

try and their families. It is a campaign to close the wage gap based on racism, sexism and discrimination against seniors and youth. Raising wages of the lowest paid will also have an uplifting effect on all wages. The battle for a living wage will boost union organizing and should be combined with it. The unorganized are in urgent need of union protection, and they  are ready  to enter  the fold, as the successful Justice for Janitors and nursing home and home care workers campaigns show. It is a good and hopeful sign that AFL-CIO unions are now more actively organizing low-paid and, often, immigrant workers. The organized labor movement cannot expand and progress without taking in this growing sector.

    The fight for passage of the bill cannot be successful without strong trade union participation. Organized labor should be a major player in the struggle to win back gains yielded in the Reagan years. A living wage law  is the best way to generate an upward push on all wages, to defend all working people from the ongoing attack on our living standards.

Experience has shown that this can and should be an inclusive movement

    Experience has shown that this can be  an inclusive movement fighting for a decent life for  everyone. Many community, religious and other organizations, as well as trade unions have joined forces to forge the victories already won. In Baltimore, the living wage campaign was initiated by a coalition of AFSCME and about 50 churches of various denominations. The living wage campaign in Chicago brought together community groups like the Northwest Neighborhood Federation, many trade unions, 7 elected officials, religious organizations and activist groups. In virtually every successful campaign, an active coalition carried the burden of outreach, organizing street heat and relations with  elected bodies to see the project through.

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Without a great national struggle there is small likelihood Congress will do the right thing

    We propose a Congressional bill to legislate an amendment to the national wage law, but cannot rely on Congress alone to do that job. Without a great national struggle there is small likelihood that Congress will do the right thing. It will take great pressure from all over the country and many segments of society to assure that the bill will be given serious consideration. It will take a major organizing effort, involving scores of local  organizations  of  all kinds, community associations, trade unions, religious bodies, single issue organizations and others working to spread the idea through public meetings, petitions, demonstrations and other activities. If we organize broadly and effectively and mobilize the people, we can make Congress act.

    We reach out to organizations, religious groups, trade unions and others to come together to become initiating sponsors of a national coalition to win a living wage for all. The way we propose to do it is open for discussion in such a coalition and the bill can be modified or changed by the coalition majority. We reach out with confidence that a majority of the people supports a living wage as fair and just.

Seattle was a protest against the pervasive abuses of capital's integrated global economy

    The great demonstration in Seattle against the World Trade Organization and the pervasive abuses of capital's integrated global economy, marks the start of a powerful next wave of struggle for economic justice, for both saving and expanding democracy, for preservation of the environment and for survival and a decent life for the world's working majority. Seattle brought together an irresistible coalition of trade unions, community and human rights groups, environmentalists, people of color, women's and youth groups and many others. At the core of the protest was a deepening grasp of how the wild flight of capital around the world is aimed, among other things, at

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seeking the cheapest labor markets, and thus putting a stranglehold on the wages and living standards of working people in every part of the globe.

Seattle has a message - united, we have the power to roll back corporate greed!

    The outcry in Seattle against the antidemocratic and exploitative policies of the WTO inevitably embraces the fight for a living wage. A living wage is  indeed  at the heart of the emerging world wide fight back against the depredations of the global system. Seattle has also given us a message: despite the awesome power of global capital and its domestic allies, a united majority of working people does indeed have the power to wring concessions, to roll back  corporate greed, and ultimately to bring about a just, fair and democratic economy and polity. The living wage campaign is an inseparable part of that great process


Let us win a national living wage.

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This model federal legislation is a proposal by the Committees of Correspondence  to  the  Living  Wage  movement. It  is  a needed response to the decades long decline in living standards due to the growing  polarization  of income  and to lack of publicly available health care and child care.

A Bill to Amend
the Fair Labor Standards Act
of 1938 (29 USC, Chapter 8)


Congressional finding
(to be added to findings
in the FLSA of 1938.)

The Congress finds that, in addition to levels of private consumption made available by the establishment of the minimum hourly wage rate, the availability of certain articles of public consumption--including health care, child care, education, transportation and housing--is a labor condition generally recognized as fundamental to maintaining the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency and general well-being of workers and their families. Congress further finds that there exists widespread inadequacy in the availability of these articles of public consumption, which obstructs fair, orderly, balanced and sustainable economic development.


Minimum Wage
(to replace Subsection a 1
of Section 206)

The minimum hourly wage shall not be less than the hourly rate necessary for one adult employed for 2000 hours per year to support a family of four. Support shall be defined as the sum of  yearly costs  for food, housing, transportation, utilities (heat, light, and other electric, water, sewer and telephone), clothing, taxes (payments and credits) and  premiums and co-payments pursuant to the health care andchild care provisions below. The cost basis shall be figured annually, using national average market surveys for the items and other data furnished by the Bureau of Labor Statistics  of the Department of Labor.


Health Care
( to be added
as a new section)

Every worker covered under this law shall be entitled from the initial day of employment through the end of the period covered by Unemployment Insurance. This coverage shall extend to a spouse and to children until the age of 18 years (or until age 23 years if in school). This provision shall not exclude any Medicare benefits that may be available during periods outside those covered by this law. Funding for this provision is to be by payroll tax and other federal moneys, in the same proportions and by the same means that Medicare was funded in fiscal year 2000.

Child Care (to be added
as a new section)

The children, up to age five years, of each worker  covered under  this law  shall be entitled  to  child  care during  the working hours in a facility easily accessible to the workplace (or easily accessible to home if the place of work is mobile). The child care facility must provide developmentally appropriate care and meet the standards of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. This program shall be organized and funded  by Head Start under the Department of Health and Human Services. Congress is directed to make the necessary appropriations. The period of child care coverage shall be the same as that of health care coverage.

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An invitation...

We have issued this pamphlet in the hope
o f strengthening the living wage movement and
in the expectation that it will promote dialog.

We'd like to hear what you think.

Please contact us at:

Committee of Correspondence
Living Wage Committee

11 John St., Suite 506
New York, NY 10038
(212) 233-7151

...and a request

 city                                                                 state                         zip

    I'm interested. Please keep in touch with me.

   I like this proposal. Please list me among the supporters

   Send me ______ additional copies of this pamphlet ($.50 / copy for five or more).

   Enclosed find a contribution of $_____________ to help with this work

Please clip and send to: CoC, 11 John St., Suite 506, NY, NY 10038

(Labor Donated)