Imagine a world where 80% of the people are without such basic needs as water, sanitation, education, healthcare, food security, or the old-age pensions — a planet where four out of five people lack what the United Nations (U.N.) calls “adequate social protection.”
Well, there is no need to imagine it, because that’s the kind of world we already have. Juan Somovia, a U.N. official, recently pointed out something we are reminded of daily by the frightening headlines from everywhere. He calls it the “linkage between social justice and national stability,” a polite way of saying that if a nation’s people do not have food, jobs, housing, fair treatment at the hands of their government, and certain other basic amenities, the leadership will definitely need to watch its back.
Now, imagine a world where everybody makes a living wage and has access to basic services. Somovia is director-general of the ILO (International Labour Organization), which is part of the U.N., and he says it’s possible. The ILO has established the basic entitlements that ought to apply to every person on earth:
— basic income security for children;
— access to some social assistance for people of working age that prevents them from falling into absolute food poverty;
— a basic old-age pension for people over a certain age;
— and essential health services for all.
Susan Jones reported on these ideas and others proposed on February 20, the “World Day of Social Justice.” All of the 183 member nations of the ILO have arranged to send delegates to a convocation in June, where they will discuss long-term plans for a worldwide “social protection floor.” The ILO believes that a worldwide universal living wage could be accomplished by spending only 2% of the Global Domestic Product.
Since they are already so clear about what is wanted and needed, it would seem that the main problem will be to discover how to get the money from wherever it is now to the people who presently live below this “floor” level of a living standard. The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also emphasized the necessity of social justice for all, saying,
No one should live below a certain income level, and everyone should have access to essential public services such as water and sanitation, health and education.
Specific to the United States, we have mentioned some of the things Richard talked about when he was interviewed by Wayne Hurlbert for Blog Talk Radio. This is Richard R. Troxell of House the Homeless, of course, talking about the ideas proposed in his book, Looking Up at the Bottom Line. It was a very wide-ranging discussion, and it’s worth touching on a few of the topics again.
In these hard economic times, we (as a nation) need to be strategic. We are smart enough not to operate on a sick patient with a chain saw as opposed to a scalpel. We should also realize that we are not a nation with just one economy. We are a nation of a thousand economies. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach with the federal minimum wage is not good for anybody. Currently, it’s enough to hurt some, for instance small rural businesses, and yet at the same time not enough to help others, such as workers in expensive cities like New York and San Francisco. In other words, it’s a lose-lose proposition.
Richard sees the Universal Living Wage as a clear, simple way to turn things around, and certainly as a large part of the solution to get economy moving. The idea has already been proven, and only needs to be extended. The military adjusts the pay scale for off-base housing according to the geographical locality. The US Government has also adopted a pay policy that considers geographic considerations when federal employees are transferred from region to region. The concept has been tried and found to be successful and valuable.
Everyone knows it doesn’t cost the same to live in Harlington, Texas, as it does to live in Boston, Massachusetts. This results in “economic homelessness,” where even an employed person can’t afford basic housing. We need a Federal Minimum Wage that is indexed to the local cost of housing (the number-one most expensive item in every American’s budget). By indexing it to the local cost of housing, we ensure that anyone working 40 hours a week will be able to afford basic food, clothing, and shelter (including utilities). Richard estimates that the Universal Living Wage could end economic homelessness for over a million people and prevent economic homelessness for all 10.1 million minimum-wage workers.
By showing how easily a “social protection floor” could be established in the United States, we could once again lead the world by setting a good example.