West Los Angeles College Livable Wage Discussion

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Most economists would describe the US as a capitalist country. According to the textbook, capitalism contains three features: the means of economic production and distribution are privately held; the profit motive is the primary force guiding people’s economic behavior; and there is free competition among both producers and consumers of goods. Barbara Ehrenreich, a journalist, wrote about her experiences working in a capitalist based economy. Specifically, she addresses the idea of a livable wage and the everyday reality of low-wage, service-based employment. Watch the video below and then respond to the discussion questions.


1. When discussing employment, the term “livable wage” is often used, and Ehrenreich is quoted as saying, “If you can’t live on it, it shouldn’t count.” What did she mean by this? What do you feel are reasonable parameters for determining a fair wage?

2. The video ended with this quotation, “The comfort of the rich depends on the abundance of the poor.” What was meant by this quotation? Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

3. Ehrenreich expressed that many people are living in a state of emergency, and predicted that people would eventually get tired of being “nickel and dimed” and will rise up in protest. What do you think? What will it take to improve the current socioeconomic conditions of those working at low-wage jobs?

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