People from every corner of the world invest their efforts tirelessly, aiming not just to excel in their careers, but also to create a life where they can reach their fullest potential. No one should struggle with uncertainty about having a roof over their head or nourishing food on their plate. Striving for a living wage can be the key to providing workers and their families with the stability needed for a dignified life.
Michelle Murray is an experienced living wage professional who has worked in the Global Living Wage Coalition and started Living Wage For US in the United States. She is one of the people leading the advocacy for the living wage movement to ensure a decent life for all.
Today, Michelle joins us for the debut episode of our Living Wage Series. She takes us on her journey through the world of living wage work, shedding light on its essence and how it can benefit enterprises of all sizes. Most importantly, uncover how you, as an employer, can embark on the journey of ensuring a living wage for your valued employees.
Listen in to explore how you can infuse fresh purpose into your business while adopting a living wage perspective. The time to make this positive shift is now!
Michelle’s Winding Journey to Living Wage
Michelle started her journey in the world of theatre. Although she cherished her career, the financial feasibility wasn’t there to sustain it. This marked the inception of her mission to establish a viable means of livelihood not only for herself but for individuals worldwide.
Michelle’s involvement in living wage initiatives commenced as part of her engagement with the Global Living Wage Coalition. The coalition created one shared definition and methodology to increase living wages in different countries. She realized these issues she was working to fix persisted in her own home country and founded Living Wage For US in 2021. There, Michelle applied the coalition’s work to the local setting of the United States. They make it possible for employers to be able to pay a living wage to their workers.
The Living Wage For US certification acts as a beacon of transparency, revealing which companies uphold the standard of a living wage. It prompts consumers to endorse these businesses and encourages potential employees with a sense of financial security. Overall, Michelle’s advocacy is to achieve a decent livelihood for people. As she said, “It’s been a windy journey to getting here, but really all motivated by everyone needs to be able to work in their chosen career field and make at least enough to cover basic human rights for themselves.”
Defining Living Wage
Living wage is a family concept defined as “the amount that a worker needs to earn to ensure a basic standard of decency for themselves and their family based on a standard workweek.” How much does it take to maintain a decent house and nutritious food for you and your family? Unfortunately, there are gaps between this living wage and the federal minimum wage.
At the core of the living wage lies the living income estimation. This concept extends to businesses engaged in supply chains. As both buyer and seller, it’s crucial to ascertain that the product’s price ensures a living income for the families in the supply chain. Think about this- will the family that I’m sourcing from be able to achieve a decent life?
Steps Towards Achieving a Living Wage
For companies, initiating a living wage for their employees might seem daunting. However, Michelle offers a user-friendly roadmap to demonstrate its feasibility.
- Look into your operations. Companies have full control over their operations and how much they pay their workers.
- Begin Locally. Start with locations where the highest concentration of workers is situated. Evaluate if they receive a living wage and gradually extend this practice to all locations.
- Go to Living Wage US and do a total remuneration assessment. This tells you your current situation including the gaps in reaching a living wage.
- Bridge the Gaps. Identify cost-effective approaches to narrow these gaps. Generate impactful changes for workers without incurring substantial costs. Recognize the benefits of embarking on the living wage journey.
Michelle shows that starting the journey towards a living wage approach can be simple. “So it starts with getting assessed. It starts with knowledge. And then you start figuring out how you close the gap.”
The Best Time to Start the Journey
It’s better to start reaching for a living wage early on. From the beginning, you’re able to have that knowledge and get these benefits. For companies starting late, there are a lot more factors to consider and changes to implement.
Nevertheless, the size of your company or your position within the business lifecycle shouldn’t stop you. As Michelle said, “We’re doing it for good reasons. But you also want to get benefits from that wages are going to increase regardless… So there’s no bad time. There’s really no bad time to start.”
The Benefits of Living Wage
Larger companies have an established financial model that would shift to cover the living wage. However, there are more potential gains. You can save a lot from a lower turnover rate. There’s less time needed for interviews and training and less cost for hiring recruiters and posting advertisements.
Another benefit is having happy and healthier employees. “Workers are able to maintain a healthier lifestyle, they’re actually able to get preventative care, and are more likely to be able to come into work, you’ll see increased productivity.”
The Gaps in the Living Wage Movement
One of the biggest gaps employers don’t often see is childcare. Childcare is one of the most expensive costs of living and it’s often overlooked in a living wage. A way to fill this gap is to offer a child reimbursement benefit to all your employees.
Surprisingly, health insurance contributes to the gap. Many employers spend money on health insurance without assessing its benefits to their workers. It can result in employers paying for benefits that their workers are truly able to use.
Retirement is another gap in the living wage movement. Currently, Michelle and her partners are working to include this factor in the concept of a living wage. They determine how much is usually saved for retirement at a living wage and consider that in the living wage estimate.
How Living Wage Contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals
Living wage is part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It actively contributes towards achieving multiple goals including no poverty, zero hunger, good health, quality education, and so on.
People, employers, communities, governments, organizations and more are partnering together to achieve the goal of a living wage. “It ends up being a huge partnership between for-profit, nonprofit, civil society, labour groups, and governments, all really partnering for a solution that works within a global economy.”
Many employers might be unsure of where to begin or find themselves perplexed about what paying a living wage entails. Knowledge is the missing piece that can inspire companies to take that crucial first step and undergo an assessment. Once the feasibility and benefits of this goal become clear, confidence and motivation to initiate the process naturally follow.
The Importance of Financial Planning in Achieving a Living Wage
Financial planning plays a pivotal role in achieving a living wage and fostering a successful business. As Michelle said, “Most employers find they’re able to keep up with [the annual goal] without detrimental side effects to losing employees and often experienced business benefits from that. They feel like they can accelerate that timeline and that financial planning strategy.”
One effective approach is to strategize over the course of several years. Gradually narrowing the gap and establishing a wage ladder can be highly effective. Adopting an incremental approach allows for reflection, adaptation to changing costs, and consistent progress. Keep in mind that a living wage also leads to heightened productivity. Surprisingly, this might not necessarily result in increased costs; instead, it could lead to an upswing in revenue.
Working with Living Wage For US
Working with Living Wage For the US starts with a conversation about the situation. This is followed by an assessment and data gathering to understand the gap in living wage. From there, you can start making some small changes, create a plan to reach an annual target and finally get certified. Companies also need to recertify annually as living wage estimates change and employers need to keep up to always ensure a living wage for the employees.
There are two tiers of certification. Tier One is your commitment to achieving a living wage while not yet reaching it. At Tier Two, all employees are at living wage.
Living Wage For US launched in November 2021. They started with a small budget that had a huge impact with over $100 million in increased wages plus additional benefits for workers. This only increases as the organization expands. Every year, each of the employers they work with is on a journey of change that grows exponentially.
Learn More About Michelle
Michelle Murray is the CEO of Living Wage For US and an experienced living wage professional. She has worked on living wage issues as the former coordinator for the Global Living Wage Coalition.
You can learn more about Living Wage For Us through their website or contact them through their page.
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