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Together with the Code of Rulings of the Oregon
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INVERSITY OF CHICAGO
266892 MARCH 1930
A Living Wage by Legislation
The Oregon Experience
I. RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE STATE
The minimum wage movement is not an isolated program; it is an integral part of a general campaign for the establishment of minimum standards of public health and well-being. It is intimately associated with the demand for the limitation of hours of labor; for accident prevention; for regulation of light, air, congestion and sanitation in the housing of the multitude; for social insurance against accidents, sickness, old-age and unemployment; for popular education and industrial training.
The general thesis is that the State has the duty to prevent any large section of its people from falling below decent standards of living. In support of this general proposition we urge that the submerging of any considerable portion of the population below decent standards of living inevitably results in:
a. Economic evils, namely, a diminished power of production and a diminished power of consumption. An under-fed, over-wrought, unhealthy and under-paid working population must be inefficient workers and will be unable to purchase the products of industry for their own use.
b. Social evils, namely, the spread of infectious and contagious diseases, the lowering of educational standards and the deterioration of public morals. It cannot be questioned that the power of a human being, to resist physical disease and moral temptation is greatly weakened by over-strain and malnutrition.
C. Domestic evils, namely, a disintegration of family ties, a diminution of parental control and a growth of parental irresponsibility. Normal home and family life is imperilled in a submerged population.
d. Individual demoralization, namely, an undermining of individual ambition, inferior education, greater moral strain and a deterioration of physique.
e. National weakness, namely, the sapping and decay of patriotism and the physical unfitting of citizens for national defense. A nation will receive the loyalty of its people in proportion as it concerns itself
with their welfare. For these reasons the State, which exists only to promote the well-being of its members, has no more important duty than that of preventing by wisely-drawn and adequately enforced legislation, the submerging of its people below decent standards of living. One of the most important features of such a legislative scheme is the provision for a living wage, which we are to discuss in this paper. It will be important to bear in mind, however, that it is only one feature of the plan and is not expected by its advocates to eliminate all the evils which the whole program is framed to meet; and which indeed the entire program, if enacted into law, would fail (because of the limitations inherent in all human measures) to completely eradicate. Being an integral part of a wider plan, the project for a legal minimum living wage will be greatly strengthened by the adoption of other features of that plan; nevertheless, it need not wait for the adoption of the other elements, but will confer great benefits on the toiling multitudes, on industry and on society at large by its own operation.
The classic definition of a living wage is that given by Pope Leo XIII in his celebrated Encyclical Letter on “The Condition of Labor," published just twenty-five years ago (May 15, 1891). The whole of this remarkable document will repay careful study. I shall confine my quotation to a single passage: