Projected Job Numbers For WI, The New Young Farmers, What Counts As Living Wage In WI?

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Heard On Central Time

What exactly constitutes a living wage in Wisconsin? Central Time investigates the battle over getting paid enough to make ends meet. We also meet the millennium’s new farmers: young, eager and innovative. And, take a look a new report from the Department Of Revenue projecting the level of job growth in the state this year.

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  • Economist Ponders Question: What Is A Living Wage In Wisconsin?

    Labor advocates sued Gov. Scott Walker’s administration last month to get state officials to evaluate whether or not the current $7.25 an hour wage is a “living wage.”

    The lawsuit stems from a little-known, century-old living wage clause in Wisconsin law that states the minimum wage shall not be less than a living wage.

    It raises an obvious question: What exactly is a living wage here in Wisconsin?

    Steven Deller, professor of applied economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the definition of a living wage depends on whom one asks. It largely remains subjective, but there are several schools of thought on how to calculate an hourly wage amount.

    “It’s a wage level that you can essentially pay your bills. You can pay to live in a reasonably priced house or apartment. You can afford to eat nutritiously, and you can basically cover your costs,” Deller said.

    Wisconsin’s statute requires some interpretation, too. It states that a living wage should provide a worker with “reasonable comfort, reasonable physical well being, decency and moral well being.”

    Deller said a simple and common way to calculate the appropriate figure is to start with the baseline that a person should use no more than 33 percent of a person’s income on housing, and then work backward from there based on housing prices or median rents and hours worked.

    Forest County has the cheapest average rent in WIsconsin. Using the 33 percent rule, Deller said a living wage there would be $9.90 an hour. Waukesha County is the most expensive place to live in the state on average. Deller said the hourly wage there would be $19.87.

    Deller said the challenge is accounting for the variation across the state. The cost of living is only one factor and he said economists don’t have sufficient data.

    “The question is how do you adjust that for cost of living?” said Deller. “The best data we got is housing prices and median rent. You could do it on that, but that could create a lot of confusion and misunderstanding.”

    Regardless of how the living wage itself is calculated, there’s evidence that raising wages for low-income workers has popular support in Wisconsin. Midterm election results show that Wisconsinites from across the political spectrum support increasing the minimum wage. In areas with minimum wage referenda on the ballot, 67 percent of voters approved raising the wage to $10.10 from its current level of $7.25, according to the Wisconsin Budget Project.

    The minimum wage was also a winning issue on Election Day elsewhere in the country. Voters in four states approved binding measures to increase the minimum wage starting next year, giving a raise to hundreds of thousands of workers.

  • Young People Turn Toward Small-Scale Farming

    Our guest describes the trend of young people moving into the world of small-scale farming and changing the shape of modern agriculture.

  • What Exactly Constitutes A Living Wage In Wisconsin?

    Wisconsinites from across party lines voted for a minimum wage increase from $7.25 to $10.10/hour. Meanwhile, labor activists have used Wisconsin’s “living wage” law to sue Governor walker, saying that the state’s current minimum wage is not a living wage. So, what exactly is a living wage in Wisconsin? A labor economist, along with listeners, weigh in.

Episode Credits

  • Rob Ferrett Host
  • Veronica Rueckert Host
  • Galen Druke Producer
  • Steve Deller Guest
  • Lauren Markham Guest

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