Living wage debated

In a society where many people have to work nearly three jobs to support a family, the idea that minimum wage pays enough to live on is becoming obsolete.

A living wage is defined as a standard wage level that would allow a person or family to live above the level of public assistance and pay for basic needs such as food and rent comfortably. Put in simpler terms it is a wage that does not force people to live from check to check.

"It is the policy of the university to recognize, promote and carry out the concept of the living wage in its employment practices," according to the university policy and procedure on living wage. "Recognizing that the university does employ individuals in some traditionally low-wage jobs, it shall be the policy of Marquette University to meet and, whenever possible, exceed the living wage standard of compensation and benefits in all areas."

Research for the current policy was gathered by Stephen Duffey, assistance vice president of human resources, at the request of members of the senior administration in the last part of 2001.

"Minimum wage is not a true living wage and the university wanted to go on record as saying so," Duffey said.

Marquette's definition of a living wage differs slightly from that of other definitions. In the University Policy and Procedures about living wages it states that the goal for a living wage is paying no less than 10 percent more than the Federal Poverty Measure for a family with three children.

According to the university, for a parent with three children, the needed yearly income is $18,100 according to the Federal Poverty Measure. For a full-time worker, based on 1,950 hours in a year, a parent with three children would need to earn $9.28 per hour.

The Universal Living Wage Campaign takes a slightly different approach to determining what amount is standard for living wage. Their formula is based on the premise that if a person works 40 hours a week, then he or she should be able to afford basic housing. It uses the guideline set by the United States Government Department of Housing and Urban Development that is also a standard used by most banks across America.

It dictates that no more than 30 percent of a person's gross monthly income should be spent on housing. This is affected by Fair Market Rents – guidelines for reasonable rents established by HUD that vary from city to city. FMRs are based on rent estimates that include shelter, rent and the cost of utilities except telephone service and living wage varies from city to city according to it. According to the HUD formula, the living wage for a family of three should be $10.52 per hour.

The Marquette policy was implemented some time in the 2002 school year. University president the Rev. Robert A. Wild spoke about the policy at his annual open forum during the 2001-'02 school year.

"Recognizing our commitment in terms of our mission to social justice, let me announce that Marquette University is adopting in formal fashion a policy in support of what is called the 'living wage,'" Wild said at the forum. "That is, we will make every effort to make certain that each and every one of our employees is paid at least 10 percent at a minimum above Federal Poverty Guidelines and to strongly encourage outside contractors who work on university projects to do the same."

Stephanie Russell, director of the office of Mission and Identity, said that she thought a living wage was very much in line with the mission of the university.

"Foundational to the Gospel message and foundational to Jesuit education is the principle of the dignity of every human person," Russell said. "Paying people a just wage is a recognition and reflection of their dignity in the workplace."

Duffey said that when deciding what living wage would mean for Marquette, the administration took into account several sources of information and factors.

"This was a realistic way for Marquette to get a base out to go from," Duffey said.

Angie Gius, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and co-chair of Jesuit University Students Together In Concerned Empowerment said that she thought it was essential that a Jesuit school have a living wage.

"Respecting a living wage shows respect for a whole person," Gius said. "Who they are is not just measured in their instrumental value in a job, but rather in their life as a whole."