Rebecca Tham, Staff Writer, October 29 2021

A DECENT READ PART 3: Livable Wages

The Decency Foundation cares deeply about treating land, animals, others and ourselves with upmost decency. This includes ensuring that the people we work with making a decent living. Before our current venture, Nu.Ag, our pilot project was Working Meals, a campaign that provided meals to furloughed restaurant workers and frontline healthcare workers at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We teamed up with local restaurants and food sources to support those who needed it most. Though our focus has shifted towards small business farmers, we want to express our support for any small businesses out there and their ability to make a livable wage by sharing some resources on the topic.

Surviving the Unlivable Wage Documentary

This short documentary, made by CBS, is a good introduction to issues surrounding the country’s current minimum wage, as well as the restaurant industry. It highlights the lives of those working low-paying restaurant jobs and discussing how they get by. "The federal minimum wage in the United States is $7.25 an hour," host Adam Yamaguchi explains. "But there's an exception for employees that earn tips, called the tipped minimum wage that allows restaurants to pay as little as $2.13 an hour in fifteen states." Instead of having an appropriate hourly wage and tips, the tips essentially serve as the hourly wage, which makes it incredibly difficult to make a livable wage, let alone save money.

Raising the minimum wage has been a widely contested topic, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. This documentary was released in late March 2020, but filmed before the pandemic struck, and the issues discussed in this documentary have continued to rise to prominence. One of the ways we can be decent to our workers is by paying them a livable wage, whether they're a restaurant worker, farmer, or work in a completely different industry.

Watch the documentary here.

A Living Wage: American Workers and the Making of Consumer Society by Lawrence B. Glickman

The topics covered in the CBS documentary serve as an introduction, whereas the rest of these resources dig deep. This book, published in 1997, is the oldest resource on this list, but details this country's long-standing history of exploiting our workers. The author goes all the way back to the mid-1800s to discuss the working conditions and extremely low "slave wages" collected by blue collar workers. Due to increased demand for better wages and the formation of unions, the labor movement was able to continuously improve their salaries and working conditions. Glickman also explores the "racial, ethnic and gender" discourse surrounding the labor movement, and how the added struggles minority groups have faced as they fought for their rights as well.

Though this book discusses events that occurred well over a century ago, and this book was published over twenty years ago, it's shocking to see what has changed... and what hasn't. Though the push for livable wages, better working conditions, and benefits has slowly improved over time, the COVID-19 pandemic brought many of these subjects back into the spotlight.

Get the ebook here.

$2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer

When this book was published in 2015, one and a half million American families were living on $2 a day. Edin, a longtime researcher of American poverty, teamed up with Shaefer, an expert in calculating incomes of the poor, to figure out how families landed in this position, how they get by, and how this country has failed to give them a livable wage.

It’s not hard to believe the number of families in poverty has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet, some lawmakers insist on keeping the national minimum wage the same. “The authors illuminate a troubling trend: a low-wage labor market that increasingly fails to deliver a living wage, and a growing but hidden landscape of survival strategies among America’s extreme poor. More than a powerful exposé, $2.00 a Day delivers new evidence and new ideas to our national debate on income inequality.”

Buy the book here.

Bite Back: People Taking on Corporate Food and Winning by Saru Jayaraman

This book came out a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and it couldn't have come out at a better time. Jayaraman, who co-founded the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), a nonprofit dedicated to raising wages and improving working conditions in the service industry, blends commentary about environmentalism, food systems and workers' rights seamlessly. Bite Back details the ways in which our current food system is broken; these issues range from environmental degradation to wage inequality. But for every problem the book highlights, it offers the solution thought up and executed by farmers, environmentalists and other activists. "This unique solutions-oriented book allows readers to explore the core contemporary challenges embedded in our food system and learn how we can push back against corporate greed to benefit workers and consumers everywhere." Jayaraman's upcoming book,  One Fair Wage: Ending Subminimum Pay in America, is being released in November, seems almost like a sequel to Bite Back and will no doubt continue the conversations started in that book.

Buy the book here.


There are countless articles about this topic coming out right now, and encourage you to read those as well! These resources just detail how we got to where we are today, and what we can do to push for a better future.

Let us know what YOU'VE been reading, watching or listening to on our Facebook and LinkedIn pages, and look forward to another installment!

Written by

Rebecca Tham, Staff Writer

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