Living wage; lower wage workers; material hardships


Many lower-wage workers’ earnings are insufficient to cover expenses such as food, housing, medical care, or transportation. While there are efforts to raise the federal and state minimum wage levels, including proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15, an alternative approach is to offer a living wage, that is a wage sufficient to meet these basic needs. We explored whether incomes above a basic needs budget threshold reduced or eliminated material hardships using a sample of 232 unionized lower-wage hospital workers. We collected data using an online survey. Basic needs budget thresholds were obtained from the MIT Living Wage Calculator. Three variables were created from nine material hardships, reflecting medical, food, housing, and transportation difficulties. Reporting any material hardship was prevalent regardless of whether household incomes were at/ above or below the MIT threshold. Addressing these hardships will require higher wages, expanded employer-provided benefits, and an expansion of federal and state safety net programs.

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