L iving wage advocates took a positive approach this week when they praised local companies and handed out certificates for paying higher wages.
Complaints may grab attention and provoke results — after all, the local living campaign has made headway on the issue with that tactic, too.
But recognizing successes is a welcome variation — a focus on what’s going right, not what’s going wrong.
The Living Wage Coalition of Central Virginia appropriately made its presentations on Labor Day.
Earning appreciation were API Service Center; the Center for Nonprofit Excellence; Martin Horn Construction; Stereo Types; Virginia National Bank, VSI Supply; Diamondback Toolbelts; Trend Salon; and Virginia Organizing. These companies pay a wage of at least $15 an hour.
Martin Hardware was recognized as an “aspiring living wage employer” that is working toward a goal of $13.50.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. As almost anyone knows who has tried to find housing and buy food in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area, that’s not enough for a decent life here.
Minimum-wage workers gross about $1,257 per month working full time, according to the coalition’s Kim Crater. The median price of a one-bedroom apartment locally is $1,230 per month. At that price, a worker could pay for housing — but nothing else.
Housing isn’t the only important expense.
As well, $1,200 is about what it costs to pay for monthly child care, according to a new report released by the National Women’s Law Center. The figure is from 2017, the most recent available, and applies to Virginia as a whole.
Child care can cost more than a year in college, the (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star says in a story about the report.
“From Shortchanged to Empowered: A Pathway to Improving Women’s Well-Being in Virginia” also notes that the cost of child care has grown by 37% to 39% over the past decade but that women’s wages have not kept pace. Wages have increased by only 5% during the same period.
Additionally, 61.3% of Virginia mothers are either the primary breadwinner in the family or a co-breadwinner — meaning that their pay is necessary to keep the family afloat.
And even then sometimes the family sinks. Minimum wage isn’t always enough to sustain a family — to pay for housing, food, utilities, child care and other expenses.
Raising wages as a solution to this problem isn’t as simple as it might seem. Companies might need to raise their prices on goods and services in order to generate the revenue to pay those higher wages.
The higher prices then can contribute to localized inflation. Companies that buy those goods or services might have to raise their own prices to pay the higher costs now being charged. And companies that buy from them then have to raise their prices to keep pace.
So the cycle goes. Soon enough, the rising cost spiral has eaten away at the original gains in wages.
Increased government regulations also add to costs. Virginia over the years has tightened its rules for child-care providers — necessary for child safety, but also adding to providers’ expenses, which are passed along to parents. Strict local regulations on where and how subdivisions and apartment complexes can be built increase construction costs and raise housing prices, developers say.
You get the picture: Economic influences are complex and interconnected, and no single solution can solve economic problems.
Nonetheless, it is gratifying to see local interests contributing their part — and to see local businesses recognized for doing theirs, as well.