Challenging the Low Wage Economy: Living and Other Wages


  • Stephen McBride
  • Jacob Muirhead


The existence of a low wage sector is nothing new, nor are
efforts to resist the conditions experienced by people whose incomes
typically fall below the poverty line. In recent decades, under the rubric of
neoliberalism structural and political factors in many western states have
combined to expand the low wage sector. In policy terms this is
represented by intensified efforts to flexibilize the labour market and to
impose conditionality for the receipt of social benefits. Various social and
political forces have pushed for policies to address issues of low wages and
poverty. The paper recognizes the intersection of social and labour market
policies but focuses on the latter. It opens with an historical overview of
efforts to address low wages that touches on sectoral councils in the U.K,
and the Awards system in Australia. It then moves on to analyze
contemporary minimum wage policy and campaigns for a living wage. We
then turn to the discourses/argumentation associated with these
initiatives, and those employed by opposition to them. Our goal is to
understand and evaluate the arguments advanced but move beyond
discourse to identify the conditions in which particular means of
addressing low wages can succeed.


How to Cite

McBride, S., & Muirhead, J. (2016). Challenging the Low Wage Economy: Living and Other Wages. Alternate Routes: A Journal of Critical Social Research, 27. Retrieved from