Discover more from Salem-Keizer Proletariat
A living wage in Salem is $33 per hour
And good luck finding a job that pays that rate
The largest recurring expense most folks have is shelter. Pick your poison. Rent or mortgage.
And the latest U.S. Census data shows that around 50% of housing units are rentals in Salem.
Rule of thumb states that folks should not be spending any more than 30% of their gross income on rent.
Assuming that’s a good general rule (and most experts agree it is)…
What does a living wage look like for workers in Salem, OR?
Of the most widely-used publicly available tools, the living wage calculator from MIT seems to be the most popular, and most other similar tools produce similar results.
The MIT tool is great, by the way, if you want to dig into wage scenarios by family composition (amount of kids; amount of working adults; etc.).
But the MIT data (like data used by most other online tools) represents a snapshot in time - the MIT data was last updated nearly 9 months ago. Even then, some of the estimates they use (housing and rental costs, for example) actually depend on data and averages from nearly 4 years ago.
We wanted a quick look at what a living wage looks like today. Current conditions. Teetering on the brink of a recession (maybe). January 2023.
So we cobbled together a few figures, and produced an up-to-date, data-backed recommendation for a living wage in modern-day Salem, Oregon.
Using listings from rental aggregator websites, we scanned listings for an average price range.
Using Indeed.com, we queried and filtered for relevant job listings for Salem, OR.
All queries performed January 21, 2023.
Data & Insights
Let’s start with the core metrics we need to know
What it costs to live in Salem & the income required to live.
Salem-Keizer Proletariat is a totally reader-supported publication. If you find this work valuable, please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Average rent in Salem = $1,600*
Average apartment rental rate/month = $1,300
Average home rental rate/month = $2,000
Gross income needed to pay average rent (using 30% rule) = $5,333
Gross income needed to pay avg. apt. rent = $4,333
Gross income needed to pay avg. home rent = $6,666
~~~Average living wage = $33/hour or $68,640/year~~~
Living wage for apartment renters = $27/hour or $56,160/year
Living wage for home renters = $42/hour or $86,658/year
*The sample we looked at was heavier on apartments, so the average is pulled a bit in that direction.
What jobs are available that offer a Salem living wage?
Indeed.com shows about 4,000 jobs listed in Salem.
When you narrow down to:
full-time jobs (because that’s the ideal employment scenario)
entry-level (because these are the folks that need a living wage)
and require no highly specialized degree or training (unequal access to opportunity)
Know how many jobs there are that pay a living wage for someone with a bachelor’s degree? 128.
That’s 3% of the total pool of 4,000.
Guess how many jobs that pay a living wage for someone with a high-school diploma? None.
Same result for living wage jobs requiring an associate’s degree. None.
The gap between current wages and a living wage is huge
And the worst part is, there’s no easy solution. In fact, there’s really no viable solutions. And the data above is just the bare minimum effort and wage levels so people can just live. Not thrive. Not get wealthy. Just food, shelter, transportation, insurance and reasonable amenities. Passable. Good, maybe. Not great.
Outside of government & corporate employers in Salem, few small or medium-sized business owners could genuinely afford to pay their workers $33/hour.
Political and legislative efforts to help workers earn a living wage are too sluggish to make a meaningful difference. States & municipalities across the U.S. have been raising minimum wages for years. In 2023 alone, 60+ states, cities & counties will implement minimum wage increases. But they are mostly just barely catching up to the $15/hour level, years after the call for a $15/hour minimum wage became popularized thanks to the work of a blend of progressive groups, labor unions and politicians.
So we’ve got a local economy where a living wage is out of reach for most, and few local businesses would be able to pay a living wage.
But there’s actually something we can do to help. It’s not a solution. There’s no snap-of-the-finger move that would either dramatically lower the cost of living, or raise entry level wages to $33/hour.
It’s more of a response. An organized response.
Labor unions. Organize them. Join them. Support their members.
There’s a reason conservative tycoons fight so relentlessly against labor unions - often using their resources & reach to run sophisticated disinformation campaigns.
Do you think it’s because labor unions suck at helping the workforce represent themselves against powerful employers?
Or is it more likely labor unions are really, really effective at getting workers better wages, better benefits, and better treatment. All things that eat into the profits of the conservative tycoons.