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ITHACA, N.Y. – The livable wage study produced by Alternatives Federal Credit Union continues to gain momentum and popularity among employers here who are increasingly looking to it as a guideline for determining salaries above and beyond the traditional minimum wage. This was the sentiment at a June 2 conference where credit union officials and others discussed highlights of the 2003 livable wage study and its impact on local employment. Alternatives Chief Operating Officer Leni Hochman presented the new annual livable wage figures for an individual: $18,061, up from $17,540 in 2000. The annual figure translates to an hourly wage of $8.68, up from $8.43 per hour for a 40-hour week. The increase before taxes comes to 5.57%. Due to a reduction in taxes, the livable wage after taxes increased just under 3%. Hochman noted that the livable wage is for someone receiving health insurance from their employer. “We’re very proud that our study has stimulated important discussion about the meaning of earning a livable wage and has provided a benchmark for others to use in advocating for higher starting wages,” Hochman said. Indeed, para-professionals in the local school district here now earn $2 more an hour because of the 2000 Living Wage Study, Hochman said. Childcare and human services workers working for non-profit agencies that contract with the county now receive a living wage. UAW Local 2300 demanded living wages for service and maintenance workers at Cornell University and got it, using the livable wage figures as their basis. In 1994, Alternatives did its first livable wage study to address internal staff concerns about compensation levels, said Bill Myers, Alternatives’ manager. Rather than looking at what competitors paid, or what the statutory minimum wage was, the credit union wanted to look at what it took to support a person above the poverty level. Figures are updated every two years. At their last board meeting Alternatives approved a new hourly starting wage for its employees of $9.14 per hour, which is the new annual livable wage divided by 38, the average number of hours worked by full-time starting level employees. “Minimum wage has to do with a power relationship between the employee and employer,” Myers said. “It limits the employer/employee relationship to protect the weaker party, the employee. It seeks to answer, `can an employer earn enough from an employee’s labor to pay a minimum wage’? The research behind livable wage asks `how much income does it take to live in our community’?” The study looks at a number of expenses in determining what a livable wage would be in Tompkins County here including rent, transportation, health care, food, day care, savings and telephone. Hochman say the study also looks at recreation and entertainment expenses and while she admits those “may be the most controversial because it’s more subjective than the others,” they are considered a “quality of life issue.” The study showed that $25.60 per week for such things as newspaper, magazine subscriptions, books, computers and an occasional video “isn’t very extravagant.” Savings stayed at $50 a month, but the Alternatives board has recommended that the figure increase with inflation in future studies. While expenses for savings is another area that other studies don’t include, Hochman said Alternatives considers encouraging savings “a core part of their mission and an important means of moving out of poverty.” A number of states have adopted livable wages including Oregon, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Washington. Ithaca city officials are starting to embrace the livable wage concept. Carolyn Peterson, Fourth Ward Common Councilwoman said the Common Council voted on June 4 for a resolution for a living wage here. If passed the city would consider whether those applying for financial assistance from the city or seeking to do business with it, are paying their employees the equivalent of a living wage, including health benefits. -

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