Waging the cost of living

Melissa Leach

You see them everyday. You may occasionally exchange a smile or a brief hello. Or maybe you take their presence for granted. They are the men and women who work under the emblem that reads: “Dining Services: Serving the Best.” However, at Villanova University, it is questionable whether or not those who help serve the best earn the best salary.

According to data compiled by the Center for Peace and Justice, Dining Services positions are ascribed pay according to a grade system. Persons who obtain a grade 1 job, such as an associate pantry or utility employee, make anywhere between $6.37 and $8.79 per hour. The salary for a General Cook, a grade 2 position, ranges from $7.40 to $15.40 an hour. A cashier, classified as grade 3, could make $7.75 an hour. Lastly, a grade 4 position, such as the supervisor of the dish room, has a starting salary of $8.98 an hour. Can any of these salaries possibly be characterized as a just living wage?

A living wage is a salary at which full time employees are able to support themselves and their families above the federal poverty line. Each year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services computes the poverty guidelines for each family unit. In 2003, the HHS reported that the poverty line for a single person household stands at $8,980. To adequately support a family of four in the United States, a person must make $18,400 a year. It costs $3,140 to support each additional family member.

The cost of living in a certain area must be taken into consideration when calculating a living wage. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development releases an annual report listing the average cost of housing in various regions across the United States. In 2004, the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties was estimated to be $721 per month.

At the end of the month, an individual who makes $6.90 an hour would receive a paycheck of $1,104 before taxes. Subtract $721 for rent and $383 remains for other expenses. This salary is sufficient for a person to remain above the poverty level if he has no dependents; however, an individual with dependents would fall significantly below the poverty line.

But the figures and facts do not tell the whole story; people do. The pantry worker at Donahue Hall labors to provide for herself and her daughter. “Right now I make like $6.40 an hour,” she said. “The salary is really a hardship for me, especially since I just got out of a divorce. Maybe for a married person it would be okay to make this kind of money, but for someone who is on their own it’s really a struggle. It really is.”

The cashier at the Belle Aire Terrace has been working at Villanova University for the past ten years. Still, she makes a wage below $10 an hour. “I have two boys I pay for,” she said. “The money here is not enough. Forget it.”

At Dougherty Hall, an 18-year-old girl works full time as a food server. “As far as the rate we make,” she said, “I think it should be higher. Villanova is a Catholic university. They should be more appreciative.”

Villanova University is a Catholic institution. Its mission statement proudly declares: “Villanova both emphasizes the values of the Christian humanistic tradition and concerns itself with all value systems.”

Well, what about the value of human work? In the 1991 “Centesimus Annus,” Pope John Paul II stated, “The obligation to earn one’s bread by the sweat of one’s brow also presumes the right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied, in which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of employment, cannot be justified from an ethical point of view, nor can the society attain social peace.”

Names of quoted Dining Services employees have been withheld at their requests.