Living wage laws

Program basics

  • A locally-mandated wage that is higher than state or federal minimum wages
  • An alternative measure to state and federal poverty thresholds that incorporates local market-related costs (such as food, childcare, housing transportation, and more) to determine basic living costs and self-sufficiency

Strength of evidence

Evidence level: Strong (second-highest tier)

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Strong (second-highest tier)

Ranked as having the second-highest level of evidence by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps


Target population

Low- and moderate-income adults and families

Program cost

Not available

Implementation locations

Dates active

1994-present

Outcomes and impact

  • Increases wages for covered workers
  • Modestly reduces poverty rates
  • No significant negative effects on employment or business growth
  • Some evidence of lower turnover and higher employee morale

Keys to successful implementation

  • Note: This content is under review.
  • Partner closely with grassroots organizers, labor rights groups, and others to gather input on local needs and to build a coalition of support for potential policy proposals.
  • Engage with the business community early and frequently; clearly communicate the myriad benefits of living wage policies, such as decreased employee turnover and increased productivity, and be prepared for an ongoing dialogue and significant pushback.
  • Leverage the power of local government spending to encourage the proliferation of living wages; for instance, apply living wage policies to businesses receiving government contracts and/or those receiving economic development subsidies.
  • Consider supplemental compensation to a base living wage, such as additional pay when an employer does not provide health insurance, unpaid and paid days off, and various job protections.
  • Develop and communicate enforcement mechanisms and penalties for noncompliance for covered employers.