Living Wage Basics

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What is the Living Wage?
A: The Living Wage is the amount of income required to bring a family of four up to the poverty line as defined by the federal government online here.
For 2001, the Living Wage is $8.49 an hour for full-time work, or $17,650 a year.

A: The Living Wage is indexed to the poverty level. Because the federal poverty level is updated every year to reflect changes in the cost of living, tying the Living Wage to it prevents increases in the cost of living from falling unfairly on the workers least able to absorb such increases.

A: The Living Wage includes basic health care benefits.

Why a local Living Wage is important.

The Living Wage encourages and rewards the work ethic. A fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay.

Government is the last resort for those members of our society who lack the resources to sustain their families. It is only common sense that government bodies should pay all their own workers enough so that they should generally be able to avoid the need for government assistance.

Public moneys are frequently used to encourage the growth of business. It is only just that government should also promote a Living Wage for workers by setting a positive example in the way in which it uses public funds. Increased income for workers builds a community’s tax base and results in a lower demand for government services. Public money should not be used to encourage and subsidize businesses who do not pay their workers enough to avoid becoming a burden on other taxpayers.

The Living Wage is also a moral issue. We often hear about the importance of government in promoting public morality and family values by setting positive examples. Government action in support of the Living Wage has widespread support among most religious denominations.

Any business or unit of government can pay a Living Wage. Passing a Living Wage resolution commits a unit of government to acting on a good idea, instead of merely paying lip service to it.

Questions and Answers About The Living Wage

Q: Is there a precedent for this type of legislation? Is the momentum for such measures really widespread?
A: Indeed there is quite a bit of precedent for this type of legislation (ordinances in force in more than 60 communities of all sizes nationwide), and many more communities are working toward it (more than 75 campaigns currently under way.) A compilation of Living Wage communities and their ordinances is available online here.

Q: Won’t this cost local governments a lot of money?
A: The city of Baltimore, Maryland instituted a Living Wage ordinance in 1995 which has been independently studied by the Preamble Center for Public Policy. They found that the inflation-adjusted cost of city contracts actually declined by 2.4% in the first year. Compliance with the ordinance has cost city taxpayers on average of 17 cents per person per year. See:

Locally, the cities of Champaign and Urbana already pay most of their workers at least a Living Wage; costs to implement a Living Wage would be nominal. A computer model estimated that the costs to bring all Champaign County government workers (about 20%of county government workers earn less than the LW) up to a Living Wage would be approximately $250,000 per year.

Q: Won’t this affect minimum wage, prevailing wage and union contracts?
A: The Living Wage affects only public moneys. It does not replace the minimum wage for private employers. Governments may choose to require that businesses bidding on contracts for goods and services pay their workers at least a Living Wage. The Living Wage specifically does not apply to existing prevailing wage laws, nor does it supplant existing union contracts. If adopted, it would seta floor for wage negotiations for future contracts. It would prohibit the contracting out of current work at less than Living Wage rates.

Q: I agree with your idea, but isn’t a family of four a high level to set the Living Wage at?
A: We chose this level because we wish to encourage workers. It allows a single person to live in frugal comfort, but pays at least enough that a family of four is at the poverty line. Workers don’t get raises for having children. If we mean to really promote family values, we have to encourage workers to shoulder their responsibilities by paying them enough to do so. A more realistic view of the economic burdens faced by working families can be seen online here.
A basic budget for a family of four in our area, one which means that the family no longer qualifies for any public services, is actually over $36,000 a year! Two parents working full-time at the Living Wage level fall short of this income. More than 25%of the citizens of Illinois live in families that earn less than this amount. Also see:

Living Wage Timeline
1988 First Living Wage ordinance passed in Des Moines, Iowa.
1994 Baltimore, Maryland becomes the first major city in the US to adopt a Living Wage.
1998 The Champaign County Living Wage Association (CCLWA) begins meeting and seeking endorsements from among the religious, labor, and social action communities. Chicago becomes the first city in Illinois to adopt a Living Wage (followed since then in Illinois by Cook County and Kankakee County).
1999 CCLWA holds its first public forum on the Living Wage, hosted by former Champaign mayor Bill Bland. We begin polling and tracking local candidates’ positions on the adoption of Living Wage ordinances. The AFL-CIOand the League of Women Voters both endorse the CCLWA campaign for a Living Wage.
2000 CCLWA picks up its first endorsement of the Living Wage from Republican candidates.
2001 The C-U Public Health District and Champaign County Housing Authority adopt Living Wage policies for their workers. CCLWA pushes for action by cities of Champaign and Urbana, along with Champaign County government.

Living Wage Web Sites

Champaign County Supporters Of A Living Wage

  • AFL-CIO of Champaign County
  • American Federation of Federal, State, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 698
  • American Federation of Federal, State, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 900
  • American Federation of Federal, State, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3700
  • Best Interest of Children
  • Catholic Worker House, Champaign
  • Carpenters’ Local 44
  • Champaign Church of the Brethren
  • Champaign County Health Care Consumers
  • Champaign Federation of Teachers
  • Champaign-Urbana Typographical Union #444
  • Channing Murray Foundation
  • Common Ground Food Cooperative
  • East Central Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council
  • First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana
  • First United Methodist Church – Social Awareness Ministry
  • Graduate Employees Organization, University of Illinois
  • Holy Cross Parish, Peace & Justice Committee
  • Illinois Disciples Foundation
  • Illinois Education Association, Region 9 (21 Locals)
  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 601
  • International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 482
  • Labor Studies Club, University of Illinois
  • League of Women Voters of Champaign County
  • McKinley Memorial Presbyterian Church
  • Terry Meadows – a member of the Teamsters, TDU and WZEF
  • Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana and Vicinity
  • NAACP – Champaign County
  • National Organization for Women, Champaign County
  • Parkland College Office of Women’s Programs and Services
  • Planners Network, Champaign-Urbana chapter
  • Religious Leaders for Community Care
  • V. Rev. Stuart Swetland, Episcopal Vicar for Social Justice, Catholic Diocese of Peoria
  • St. Boniface Catholic Church, Seymour
  • St. John’s Catholic Chapel/Newman Foundation at the University of Illinois
  • St. Mary Catholic Church, Champaign
  • Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73
  • Sierra Club, Prairie Group
  • Socialist Forum
  • Union of Professional Employees (UPE) University of Illinois, Executive Committee
  • UIUC Association of Academic Professionals
  • University YWCA
  • Urbana-Champaign Friends (Quaker) Meeting
  • Women Against Racism

Champaign County Living Wage Association Contact Information
We welcome your participation!
The Champaign County Living Wage Association (CCLWA) meets the third Saturday of the month at noon. Our meetings are held at the Illinois Education Association office, on the second floor above Pard’s Western Shop, 304 N. Maple St. in Urbana (behind the Urbana Schnuck’s store and across the railroad tracks.) This is an accessible building.

Address: CCLWA, P.O. Box 953, Urbana, Illinois 61803
Phone: 217-344-5609

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