Wagering on Wages

April 22, 2010

crowdSunTrust Auditorium has seldom, if ever, been as packed as it was on April 14. A discussion panel with presentations by seven distinguished experts examined the meaning and importance of a Living Wage. A Living Wage is defined as the amount of pay needed to sustain a baseline quality of life. Minimum wage on the other hand, is simply the legal lower limit. And when economists and business professionals sit on the same panel lively discussion is never far behind.

Assistant Professor of Economics Philip Kozel, Professor of Economics Charles Rock, Assistant Professor of Political Science Dan Chong, Professor of Economics Eric Schutz, Professor of International Business Don Rogers, Associate Professor of Critical Media and Cultural Studies Lisa Tillman, and Professor of Economics Bob Reinauer all contributed their particular perspectives on the issue.

Kozel gave the audience a brief background on the Living Wage movement and how it has been relatively successful on a local level. Cities agree to contract with companies that agree to provide their workers with a living wage and those that do not are denied city contracts. The role of the Living Wage in keeping workers above the poverty line was Rock’s specialty. The global perspective came from Chong, who provided the saddening fact that upwards of one billion people worldwide live on $1 of pay per day. Reinauer provided data from a study in Mexico which calculated the approximate Living Wage using the estimated caloric intake of the sample group and combined it with other expenditures. Highlighting the disproportionate increase in the wages of those who make top dollar in the U.S. as opposed to the rest of the population was Schutz’s focus. The reality that most Living Wages are calculated for individuals only and do not take those people’s family’s into account was presented by Tillman.  Rogers, on the business side, explained that businesses weigh how much a salary is worth according to whether or not the recipient adds enough value to the enterprise to be worth the investment.     

The Q&A session that followed the presentations was just as spirited. Topics of interest ranged from outsourcing and why more cities do not have living wage laws to how the power of consumer choice can even sway Walmart if applied forcefully enough. The microphones made the rounds both through the assembled students and across the panel as everyone added their perspectives. This proves there’s a lot more to economics than just a jumble of numbers.   

~ Jennifer Ritter (Class of 2013)

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