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Local Economy = Living Wage

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Grand Rapids is doing relatively well riding the storm of the economic downturn that has crippled much of our state. Among the many reasons for this there is a primary one, being a vibrant local economy supported by businesses, residents, and non-profit advocates such as We understand that buying from local businesses may cost a little more but pays off in the long run through good local jobs and a more stable local economy.

One of the assumptions of supporters of local businesses and the local economy movement is that the employees of local businesses are also supported by a living wage. The living wage standard that is often quoted is $10 an hour for a full-time position, roughly $20,000 a year. This figure is an estimate of how much a single person needs to make in order to pay for basic life necessities, i.e. food, shelter. Locally owned and operated businesses have jumped on board with the Buy Local mantra but, are they putting it into practice by paying a living wage?

Local businesses are benefiting from increased sales to conscientious consumers but are not necessarily putting the local economy tenants into practice. Is your barista or cashier making a living wage? Why not ask them? If not, then tell their employer that they should be. Employees complaining about wages is old hat and easy to turn a deaf ear to as an employer. What if the request comes from customers? Myself and many of the people that I am familiar with intentionally shop locally, as much and as often as possible, with the intention of supporting the local economy. One of the base units of a local economy is the service worker, and the assumption in shopping locally is that you are helping provide a living wage to that person. If the success of a local business is based upon quality customer service and the intention to frequent local shops by a customer, then it should reflect in a living wage.

Businesses are more than happy to participate in joint marketing that touts the benefits of “Going Local” but some are hesitant to invest in their employees in a way that truly creates a sustainable local economy. Where we have seen the “Green” movement co-opted with businesses green-washing everything we are now seeing the “Buy Local” movement co-opted in a similar way. Buying local is important inasmuch as it actually supports a sustainable local economy. A living wage is a critical component of maintaining a vibrant local economy.

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Penn State has an interesting "Living Wage" page, here is the breakdown for Kent County, It puts the Living Wage of Kent County at $8.53 an hour for a single adult with no dependents. They define living wage as, "a minimum estimate of the cost of living for low wage families. The estimates do not reflect a middle class standard of living."