Living Wage Campaign to Decrease Poverty

Special Guest Commentary by “Cleveland Jobs and Living Wage Campaign”

A hard day’s work deserves an honest day’s pay. Hardworking people should be able to support themselves and their families by their hard work. The city of Cleveland, as well as employers who receive financial assistance from the city, should pay their employees a “living wage.” These are the basic ideas behind the Living Wage Campaign.

Although Cleveland is among the cities with a high cost of living, Cleveland’s minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, the same as the federal minimum wage. At that wage, a full-time worker working year round, 2080 hours, would earn only $10,700. As of May 1998, the poverty line for a family of four is $16, 450. A full-time worker would have to make $7.91 an hour just to meet this poverty line. And we all know that just meeting the poverty line means misery.

Jus think about what it costs to live. What does rent for a family cost? And food? And clothing? Transportation? Day care? What if someone gets sick; what does that cost? Don’t people who work deserve to be able to support themselves by their labor?

The purpose of the Cleveland Job and Living Wage Campaign is to make sure that workers whose wages are paid with our tax money make enough money to live above the poverty line. The Living Wage would require the city and those companies that benefit from our taxes to pay their employees no less than 110% of the poverty level for a family of four, almost $9.00 an hour. In addition, the law would require employer-paid family health care for those workers, and a guarantee of the right to organize a union if they choose to do so. This Living Wage would still be a low income, but at least it would ensure a family of four enough money to cover the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, day care, transportation, and medical care.

This new law would help the economy of our neighborhoods. A two-year study in Baltimore, where a Living Wage has been adopted, found that the cost of city contracts decreased, while business investments increased. Not one company with a city contract reported a reduction in their number of employees.

When employees receive a healthier salary, taxpayers pay less money for social services, since less money is needed for public supports, such as welfare, food stamps, heat assistance, subsidized health care, etc. Business owners would be helped by having more stable workers, since they won’t be leaving for higher-paying jobs. Small, neighborhood-based businesses would find that with more money circulating, they would have more customers.

The Cleveland Jobs and Living Wage Campaign is a movement of clergy, church members, union members, community organizations, and citizens of the Cleveland area who believe all human beings have the right to dignified treatment. Low-wage workers deserve the same respectful treatment as anyone else.

Nothing less than the living wage should be paid by employers who are recipients of city financial assistance themselves. Whether they be engaged in manufacturing or some other line of business, the city surely does not wish to foster an economic climate where a lesser wage is all that is offered to the working poor.

We believe that a living wage for all working people, health-care protection, and care for our children are rights as fundamental as the right to be safe and secure in our own homes.

The Living Wage legislation has been adopted in 11 cities across the country, including Los Angeles, CA; Baltimore, MD; Minneapolis, MN; St. Paul, MN; Portland, OR; Milwaukee, WI; and New York City, NY. The Cleveland Jobs and Living Wage Campaign is lobbying for legislation like that in Minneapolis, which requires any company receiving city funding to pay their employees 10% above the poverty line.

We have launched a campaign to win a change in the laws in Cleveland, to create a Living Wage here. We need everyone’s help. To find out what you can do, please call us at 440-333-6363. We will send you more information and ideas for activities. We invite everyone who believes in the Living Wage to join us as we march together in the Labor Day Parade in Garfield Heights on the morning of Saturday, September 5. For more information, please call 440-333-6363

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 29, September-October 1998