What Is a Living Wage?

When you’re researching fair trade products, and supporting small artisans, you often hear the term living wage. Just what is a living wage, and how much is it in actual money?

First, let’s discuss the concept of a living wage. A living wage is the sense that the worker is being paid enough to be able to afford food to eat. A place to stay. Electricity for their lights. It’s not about the person living a life of luxury. It’s not about cable TV or a car or anything else like that. It’s simply about the person being able to stay fed and dry. About having clothes to wear, even if they are second-hand.

You might think that this is a normal thing for people to want. But in many underdeveloped countries, the industrial nations go in, set up factories, and then hire people for pennies an hour. The workers slave away under horrific conditions, often enduring abuse and damaging their bodies. And yet they’re not even paid enough to get food to eat. We’re not talking about lobster and filet mignon. We’re just talking about rice or beans.

That’s why we’re trying to provide options. We’re offering tasks that people can do that are valuable, worthwhile, safe, and healthy. This isn’t about charity. It’s about the way life used to be before corporations swooped in to abuse people. About having people do something of value and being paid fairly for their efforts.

So then the question is – just how much is a living wage in actual numbers?

This varies from country to country and even from region to region. The amount of money it costs to get the rock-bottom cheapest apartment in a city might be different from the amount of money for that same option in a rural village. Someone who has the ability to grow vegetables in their back yard might have an easier time with food, compared with someone in an inner city where they have no access to soil at all.

Bangladesh is usually a country quoted as having some of the world living wages in the world. The average wage there per month was only US $38 in 2012. That means many people struggled to live on less than that! You might think, “Oh but things must be cheaper in Bangladesh” – but the point of a US equivalent value is that the buying power is fairly equivalent. Imagine if you lived where you are now and only had $38 for an entire month to buy food, never mind anything else. How much food could you buy? Would it be nutritious? How could you afford clothes to wear? You couldn’t even afford to buy fabric to MAKE clothes.

That’s why helping everyone have a living wage is so critical. It’s good from a social point of view – and it’s even good from a financial point of view. If people are stable and able to support themselves, they can buy goods that other people produce. Their products can be used by people who need them. It’s always better for a society to have everyone fully engaged to their potential.

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