Working for Better Wages
Becky Doemland (June 2023)
For many U.S. families, financial stability is a goal that is frustratingly out of reach, despite the determination of working household members. This segment of the population – sometimes described as the working poor – is known as the ALICE population: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Families in ALICE households have working adults who are earning more than the Federal Poverty Level, but not enough to afford basic expenses where they live.
Nationally, 29% of all households are part of the ALICE population. In Indiana, 12% of Hoosier households earned below the Federal Poverty Level in 2021, and another 27% were ALICE households. Added together, 39% of Indiana households were struggling to support their own families in 2021.
People are working, and yet they cannot make ends meet. Government agencies and nonprofit organizations are working tirelessly to provide relief in our communities, but the solution requires more involvement. It needs the support of the business community too. How can businesses make an impact? One answer is living wages.
Pledging to Pay Better Wages
In Indianapolis, a program has been launched by EmployIndy, Central Indiana’s workforce development board, called the Good Wages Initiative. Targeting local companies, the Good Wages Initiative promotes the standard of providing full-time employees with access to health insurance benefits and a payrate of at least $18 per hour, which is an hourly living wage in Indianapolis. Now in its second year, more than 70 companies and organizations have already achieved Certified or Committed status through the initiative.
In a time of record low unemployment, recognition for paying a living wage can be a competitive advantage for employers. Participating companies apply for two-year certification and share their commitment to employee well-being and the community through company marketing and to active job seekers.
Kiersten Janik, Chief Talent Officer for Heritage Construction Materials in Indianapolis, spoke about the Good Wages Initiative in a recent documentary. “From a sustainability perspective for our business, it’s important that we’re meeting those basic needs; we’re paying a living wage; and employees can show up feeling like they can be engaged, and they don’t need to be out looking for something else to meet those basic needs.”
Compensation, Done Consciously
Those who follow Conscious Capitalism will recognize that the concept of paying living wages aligns perfectly with the movement’s tenets of Higher Purpose and Stakeholder Orientation.
- Higher Purpose is the belief that businesses should exist for reasons beyond just making a profit. Conscious Capitalists share concern for local communities, ensuring that their neighbors are thriving and enjoying a standard of living that includes family-sustaining wages.
- Stakeholder Orientation is centered on the belief that businesses should address the interests of all stakeholders—not just shareholders. By focusing resources on employee welfare, companies demonstrate their commitment to the well-being of their own team members and deepen relationships with conscious customers, investors and the community at large.
Resources to Learn More
Do your part to promote a conscious approach to compensation by investing time to learn about the plight of working Hoosiers who are struggling to provide for themselves and their families.
- Check out the United for Alice website (www.unitedforalice.org) for a national overview of the ALICE population and local information from partnering states.
- Spend 30 minutes watching The Working Hungry (www.pbs.org/show/working-hungry/), a documentary spotlighting the stories of three working Hoosiers experiencing food insecurity.
- Find the living wages in your area with the Living Wage Calculator from MIT (https://livingwage.mit.edu), as it applies to scenarios of working adults and number of children in households.
 Research Center – National Overview. United for Alice. www.unitedforalice.org/meet-alice
 Miner, Dave (Co-producer). The Working Hungry [Film]. PBS.