Pandemic or Not, Worker Subjective Wellbeing Pivots About the Living Wage Point: A Replication, Extension, and Policy Challenge in Aotearoa New Zealand

Front Psychol. 2022 May 17;13:828081. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.828081. eCollection 2022.


Recent pre-pandemic research suggests that living wages can be pivotal for enhancing employee attitudes and subjective wellbeing. This article explores whether or not the present COVID-19 pandemic is impacting pivotal links between living wages and employee attitudes and subjective wellbeing, with replication indicating robustness. Twin cohorts each of 1,000 low-waged workers across New Zealand (NZ), one pre- (2018), and one present-pandemic (2020) were sample surveyed on hourly wage, job attitudes, and subjective wellbeing as linked to changes in the world of work associated with the pandemic (e.g., job security, stress, anxiety, depression, and holistic wellbeing). Using locally estimated scatter-point smoothing, job attitudes and subjective wellbeing scores tended to pivot upward at the living wage level in NZ. These findings replicate earlier findings and extend these into considering subjective wellbeing in the context of a crisis for employee livelihoods and lives more generally. Convergence across multiple measures, constructs, and contexts, suggests the positive impacts of living wages are durable. We draw inspiration from systems dynamics to argue that the present government policy of raising legal minimum wages (as NZ has done) may not protect subjective wellbeing until wages cross the living wage Rubicon. Future research should address this challenge.

Keywords: decent work; job attitude; living wage; minimum wage; pandemic; wellbeing.