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A "Living Wage" Versus Minimum Wage


There is debate currently in several states including Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut about raising the minimum wage. A group in one western Massachusetts city is pushing for what it calls a “living wage” WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.

        A  large increase in the expenses for basic needs, food and fuel, is pushing the living wage in Northampton Massachusetts to $12.52 an hour, according to the Northampton Living Wage Coalition ,a group that seeks to highlight the plight of low-wage earners. 

        The living wage is substantially higher than the Massachusetts minimum wage which is $8 per hour, according to Kitty Callaghan, a member of the living wage coalition steering committee.

        The living wage is calculated for a basic needs household budget of a single person, with no children. It is adjusted annually for inflation. It increased 43 cents for 2012. The Consumer Price Indexes for food rose 4 point 7 percent, almost 10 percent for gasoline and 18 percent for household fuel oil.

        The living wage is voluntary. It was endorsed in 2009 in a resolution passed unanimously by the Northampton City Council. The coalition certifies employers who agree to pay the current living wage, or pledge to eventually do so. It enrolls individuals as members who pledge to patronize the businesses paying the living wage rate.

        Callaghan says there are roughly 2 dozens businesses in the coalition, and close to200 indvidual members.

        The coalition is also hoping to expand its living wage campaigns to Springfield and Greenfield.

        One of the Northampton Living Wage Coalition member businesses is Fly By Night Furniture. Richard Zafft is the founder.

        Zafft says almost daily he encounters people who work for big corporations that could easily afford to pay the $12.52 living wage, but don't. On the other hand, he knows other small business owners who would like to pay the living wage rate, but cannot.

        The Northampton Living Wage coalition, each April, commemorates the birthday of Frances Perkins, the Mount Holyoke College graduate, who as US Labor Secretary fought successfully to establish the first national minimum wage.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.