i can’t remember how young i was when i learned that the rda is bullshit. i think i was in middle or high school. i know i was starting to learn about nutrition while also just having ice cream and candy bars from the machines in the lunch cafeteria because it was cheap and easy and lunchtime was stressful as a queer kid in kansas.
it was probably a day when i grabbed the q-r volume of the encyclopedia botanica on my way to hide in my closet.
so when i learned that the recommended daily allowance set by the u.s. government was only the recommendation for the average human to stay alive. not thrive. not to be a healthy well functioning human, but to just stay alive…i kinda lost my shit.
reading a little further i learned the rda only came about in 1941, during world war 2 because they couldn’t find healthy enough people to fight in the war, so it became an issue of national defense…health and war. soooo what? we only care about the health of people when we need them to go off and kill and die? (deep thoughts hard feelings)
so with this in the back of my mind, i started digging into what a living wage means.
i have worked for a couple of places now that have bragged, lead with even, that they paid a living wage for the county they operate in. so after getting paid a “living wage” a couple times now, and still barely getting by, chalking it up to the ever increasing costs of housing, i decided to look up how m.i.t. calculates living wages. https://livingwage.mit.edu/ is where you can find yours.https://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/35055 is where you can find the one for where i currently live.
a few things i have found when i’ve looked at the ones for where i live (i use single no children) is the housing cost is not even close to what i can find available in my area. they list $9816 or a little over $800 a month. when i look for an apartment, if i can find one available, the lowest is around $1200 a month. many require first, last, and deposit, so about $3600 to get into a place (not calculated in the living wage calculator by the way). if i just want to rent a room, i could get by with $600 to $800 a month. again, if you can even find a place available that a bunch of other people aren’t also applying for. when i talk about this, people say “ya, that’s everywhere though” and “thanks air bnb”. ok so let’s move to transportation.
the transportation line comes to $411 a month. that is supposed to cover the cost of gas, oil, maintenance, insurance of a used car or truck, but not the actual purchasing of a vehicle, nor saving for a relplacement when needed. it also includes the option of public transportation. one place i worked, many people on staff road bikes or were close enough to walk to work. some drove cars or trucks, or were dropped off by a member of their household, so this figure was pretty close to right when factoring in daily transportation because we could use the combo of bike and light rail to get around a major metroplex, if we are just looking at getting to and from work/home. however, as the cost of housing pushed us further away from work this became more problematic. the company that runs the ski valley i work in does offer a free shuttle service that is pretty convenient in the busier season, but is extremely limited right now. also, gets super packed to standing room only; not fun during covid times or the final miles up a winding mountain road covered in snow.
ok, so let’s get to a line item that, at first i got excited about: civic
i thought, ok some of this really makes it tough on folks, but here is a line item that maybe factors in how people can be more civically active, do civic duties like jury duty, or be able to go to city council meetings, get time off to vote, and be members of their community. so what is included? fees and admission, entertainment, audio-visual equipment, toys, hobbies, playground equipment. well, damn. not even the cost of taking time off to go vote as any good citizen is supposed to do.
then there is the “other” line. so maybe here is where i am going to see what it costs to be an active member of my community? nope. this is where i get to add in my personal care items and house cleaning items. well shit.
so when i go to the sheet that explains what is in each line item (https://livingwage.mit.edu/resources/Living-Wage-Users-Guide-Technical-Documentation-2022-05-10.pdf) there is a section called broadband that is suppose to include the cost of cellphones and internet, however, i do not see this in the budget sheet. if you see it, please let me know. it is not hard to argue that these are indeed necessities these days. in fact many jobs these days this is how you clock in/out, have required apps for covid screening before coming to work, and finding out if you get a job or have an interview…so
so all the concerns i’ve already listed here are pretty big, but the one that really gets my toes clenched is the one for food, for we are what we eat. also, most people working these lower waged jobs are doing physically demanding work so need good healthy calories. however, the budget here expects that people are choosing the lowest cost foods available and that all meals and snacks are prepared at home. so i wonder if the workers have access to refrigeration to keep their prepared meals from spoiling while they are working? do they have a safe and convienent way to heat their food when it is time? do they have access to adequate time to gather their meals and snacks and consume them without rushing, thereby able to have a healthy digestion process? if they bring meals that don’t need heating, do they have a place to store lunch boxes or small coolers? how about water? access to clean water to refill their own water bottles? then there are people who work extra hours to make up for the low pay, or are working extra due to tight labor shortages or multiple jobs just to make ends meet, hopefully? we may need to eat out sometimes on our way home after long days or between jobs, or single/overworked parents who just want to pick up something on their way home so they can spend more time with their kids.
but the part that really pisses me off is that they specifically expect people to choose the cheapest foods available. and when i go into the standard grocery store, the cheapest foods are loaded up with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fats, salt, and so many additives. and we come full circle back to the rda…foods that keep people alive, but not well. the same people with these foods as their options are at higher rates for diabetes, heart disease, diet related illnesses. and the greater community and media blame these same people for making bad choices when they are making the choices from what is available to them. i beg the question, is living wages + rda actually be killing people?
some may ask, yes, but they could grow their own fruits and vegetables. ok where? do we have access to the land or community garden plots? when some folks in high poverty communities try to grow foods in that little strip of land between sidewalk and curb they have been fined, threatened by cops, and forced to remove these fresh foods. which also brings us back to housing and what a place to live allows for besides shelter.
and since we are talking about food and health, cheapest foods are linked to higher healthcare which many people in this income group will not have access to. we make too much to be on a government plan or medicare, but not enough to be on our company’s plan. pretty fucked up if you ask me.
in addition, for someone like me who does not really want to use allopathic care, even if i did spend money on a state funded healthcare, what i want to use isn’t covered, so no acupuncture, no supplements that assist in building my immune system, and certainly not enough for fresh food without pesticides and growth hormones, just prescriptions that are too expensive and have side effects that make me need more prescriptions.
i have a little more room in my food budget by being vegan, as long as i don’t buy processed, prepackaged vegan options i have more room in my budget to buy healthier fresh food options.
if you pull up the charts for the wages, the first chart on the living wage calculations, you notice there are 3 wage groups: living wage, poverty wage, and minimum wage. if you ask me, based on how m.i.t calculated all this, wouldn’t the living wage actually be the minimum wage? and why would we even want anyone anywhere receiving poverty wages? if you ask me,”living wage” is just another form of shifting language to make people (i see you nice white liberals) feel better about what they offer their staff…its marketing. ..
if you ask me, this is one piece of the puzzle to the “labor crisis”. who wants to live like this? and these wages are not just for the entry level jobs like housekeeping which is what i have been doing. i was thinking about getting a teaching certificate due to the teacher shortages, but i would need to pay for more education and receive about the same wages. fuck that.
so if you are still wondering why people supposedly don’t want to work, and why there is a nationwide labor shortage, think on this. also think that more people now need to stay home to care for children, parents, tias, abuelos, friends, selves….
if nothing else, listen to beyoncé’s. new song https://youtu.be/yjki-9Pthh0
p.s.here is a little translation for wages: a $40,000 a year salary (before taxes) comes to $19.23 an hour. so a $15 an hour job comes to $31,200 a year (again before taxes). i base these numbers on 40 hour work weeks, worked over 52 weeks a year because most of these jobs do not offer solid paid days off. also, vacation/time off is not figured into the wage calculator.