What Is a Living Wage Ordinance?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2019
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A living wage ordinance is a law that guarantees workers a wage sufficient to provide for their needs. While both a minimum wage and living wage ordinance dictate workers' wages by law, a living wage is often higher than a minimum wage. Those who advocate protecting workers with a living wage ordinance say that this wage should be high enough to provide the worker and his family with a modest home, adequate food, clothing, medical care, household necessities, and some amount of leisure activity. The living wage should generally be high enough that the worker is required to work no more than 40 hours weekly, and should not be asked to rely on any alternative financial resources. Those who support the enforcement of such ordinances typically point out that many workers struggle to support their families, and wind up working for excessively long periods at multiple jobs while acquiring debt in the payment of basic expenses.

Some states and cities in the United States have adopted living wage ordinances intended to provide workers working 40 hours a week with sufficient income. These cities include San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston. Maryland has adopted a statewide living wage ordinance. Activists in other nations, such as Canada and the United Kingdom, are working toward the establishment of living wage laws in their local areas.


The concept of a living wage probably goes back to the late 19th century. Pope Leo XIII is generally credited with the idea of protecting workers through a living wage ordinance. His writings are believed to have been influential to the labor movements of the early 20th century. These movements saw the establishment of labor unions, the shortening of the work week, the elimination of child labor, and the inception of minimum wage laws throughout much of the Western world.

Modern advocates of the living wage ordinance believe that minimum wage ordinances aren't adequate to protect workers. In many areas, the minimum wage doesn't provide adequate income for a worker to support himself, much less his family. Many workers working for minimum wage find themselves holding down multiple jobs. In families with children, both parents are often forced to work more than 40 hours a week to support their families. The combined wages of both parents often still aren't enough to provide the family with adequate housing, clothing, food, practical items, and recreation.


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