Searching for a Living Wage

It’s no secret. MSEA’s education support professionals in every job category are underpaid. The economy, though showing some signs of recovery, remains a serious concern for workers across the board.

Many hardworking ESPs, from custodians and school secretaries to instructional assistants and school nurses, already struggle to enjoy the quality of life a full-time, 40-hour per week job should offer. 

At the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, many Marylanders who work full-time fall well below the poverty level, prompting some counties to pass living wage ordinances. It’s a start but thousands of workers in Maryland remain grossly underpaid.

What Is a Living Wage?

A living wage can enable an education support professional (ESP) to survive on one full-time job, without support from relatives or government agencies, and have time left over for a real personal and family life. A living wage is sufficient to pay for the basic needs in a given community—including food, housing, transportation, health care, child care, clothing, taxes, personal necessities, and even some modest savings.

A “basic needs budget” is the total of these expenses, calculated monthly and adjusted according to family size, work status of adults in the household, and regional variations in costs.

Using estimates of a monthly living wage, members of Association bargaining teams, UniServ staff, and lobbyists can break the numbers down to several different hourly wage figures, reflecting the length of the ESP workday, workweek, and school year.

Five ways to research a living wage

  1. Here are ways to start: Do some research with the help of a local credit union, an area college or  university, or a non-profit organization that works on economic policy issues.
  2. Do some research with the help of a local credit union, an area college or  university, or a non-profit organization that works on economic policy issues.
  3. Look for “self-sufficiency standards” and housing costs on the website of a state agency that administers social assistance programs.
  4. Find out if your state government establishes hourly living wage estimates on a regular basis. If so, adjust them for an ESP work schedule.
  5. Devise expenditure categories for a living wage, and have a representative group of ESP members in your local track their monthly expenditures in each of those categories. Then compute average costs.