When it comes to jobs, we hear a lot of different terms and phrases thrown around:

good jobs, low-paying jobs, minimum-wage jobs, stable jobs — the list goes on and on.
But one term you might not hear often enough is living-wage jobs.
Despite its name, a living wage means more than just being able to pay for the basic things to be alive. Being able to buy and consume food is a basic need, for example, as opposed to a necessity for achieving a certain standard of living.
When we talk about a living wage we mean the threshold at which someone’s basic needs can be met. This does include the need for things like food and water, but also being able to pay for decent housing, reliable transportation, clothing and many of the necessities some might take for granted.
Let’s dig a little deeper into what makes for a living-wage job, and what that looks like right here in Denver South.

Attaining a standard of living

Investopedia points that “The goal of a living wage is to allow employees to earn enough income for a satisfactory standard of living.”
This can become a bit confusing, because the standard of living not only changes by country, but by state and individual community. But it can be a useful start when measuring whether people are making enough money to live in relative comfort.
Living-wage jobs are enablers, making it so workers don’t have to wonder whether they can afford their next meal or make rent for the month. And it’s important to note that we’re talking about meeting a minimum standard of living relative to others in the area.
For Denver South, this includes housing that can comfortably fit your family and craft breweries within a half mile — OK, we made the last one up, but it feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it?

The Goldilocks Wage

Think of living-wage jobs as those that provide salaries that are neither minimum wage nor exorbitant. A living-wage job doesn’t have to pay enough to buy a beamer, just enough to know that you’ll be able to get wherever you need to go when you need to, whether by car, bus, light rail or any other option that works for you.
It’s important to separate living-wage from minimum wage, as well. To fully understand what makes for a living-wage job, it’s dependent on a multitude of factors, whereas the minimum wage is set by policy. It’s possible that there are communities where a minimum-wage job is also a living-wage job, but generally speaking they are not the same thing.

Industry doesn’t matter

Living-wage jobs can come from anywhere: tech, manufacturing, construction, hospitality — every industry is capable of producing these types of jobs.
This is great news, because it allows workers the opportunity to pursue careers in areas they’re passionate about, and rest assured they’ll have a job that will cover all of their basic living expenses.
In fact, Paste Magazine notes that even becoming a barista can turn into a living-wage job. As they put it: “There’s a significant gap in the trades right now as boomers are retiring, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with working your way up in the service industry.”
This quote also highlights that there are multiple pathways to finding a living-wage job, and that doesn’t always have to include getting a traditional four-year degree. Internships, apprenticeships, coding bootcamps — there are all kinds of options for workers, and places like Arapahoe/Douglas Works! are helping to match the natural aptitudes of workers with living-wage jobs.

What does a living-wage job look like?

There a multitude of factors that go into what makes for a living wage job, and it won’t be the same across the spectrum. Geography, economic climate and infrastructure can affect what makes for a living wage in one area but not in another.
If you really want to dig into the numbers, MIT has even built a calculator that will estimate the exact wage needed in specific regions for it to be considered a living wage. But living wage-jobs go beyond the numbers.
The truth is that a living-wage job doesn’t have a single defining characteristic. It can come from anywhere, in any form. You can be a waiter or a vice president; a plumber or a computer programmer — this is why it’s critical not to limit the definition of living-wage jobs too much, or narrow the scope of what industries might produce them.
The one key characteristic is to look at the quality of life of the workers occupying those jobs: are they scraping by and having to supplement their income, or are they able to regularly meet the economic demands of daily life? This is the true barometer of what a living-wage job looks like.
To create a sustainable economic future that provides for everyone who wants to participate, these are the kinds of jobs we’ll need to develop.

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