This week, MLK50: Justice Through Journalism sent out its annual Living Wage Survey to area nonprofits and organizations to help us and our community better understand the challenges and successes involved in paying nonprofit employees a livable wage.
Like everything we do, our work is driven by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On this he said: “Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working every day? They are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. These are facts which must be seen.”
We understand nonprofits face different challenges than multinational corporations. By gathering data, we hope to convene a robust public conversation on what it takes to help Memphis-area workers live and thrive.
Our 2018 survey revealed most of the area’s top 25 employers don’t pay workers enough to live on, with rare exceptions, such as International Paper. Since then, Memphis has seen promising movement: St. Jude announced it would offer a $15 minimum wage to all its workers. Amazon announced it would raise the minimum wage for all U.S. employees to $15 an hour the same day it began hiring for its new distribution center in Southeast Memphis. We’ve profiled local concerns that have committed to paying a living wage, such as Code Crew and CHOICES.
“We don’t call it a living wage; we just think it’s the right thing to do,” said Meka Egwuekwe, Code Crew co-founder. “We’re fortunate to be in a field that it’s in high demand, and schools want the opportunities and they have budgets set aside for it.”
Now, it’s Memphis’ nonprofits turn to tell their story.
The 10-question survey is simple and doable, crafted with guidance from PolicyLink, a California-based research and action institute focused on racial and economic equity; Center for Community Change, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that works to empower low-income people; and Data for Good, a Memphis company that develops evaluation tools. We also consulted a leading human resources professional to be sure the questions could be answered easily by HR departments.
As each organization completes the survey, we will cheer them on social media and we hope our audience does, too. The results will be featured in our final analysis, when we hope to hear more about how area nonprofits are addressing this issue.
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit reporting project on economic justice in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation and Community Change.