Behind this effort is a philosophical claim that employers are morally obligated to pay “a living wage” to employees, so they can afford necessities (however ambiguously defined) on a single wage, working forty hours per week. This moral argument singles out employers as the morally responsible party in the living wage equation, even though the variables that determine a living wage go far beyond the wage earned.
[...] And yes, it’s true that plenty of activists regularly denounce landlords as “slumlords” or greedy capitalists for charging the highest rents the market will bear. And there are still plenty of activists who argue for price controls on rents and food. But they’re in a small minority nowadays. The vast majority of voters and policymakers recognize that government-dictated prices on food and housing lead to shortages. Setting a price ceiling on rents or home prices simply means that fewer housing units will be built, while setting a price ceiling on eggs, or milk or bread will simply mean that fewer of those staples will be brought to market.
Such assertions are barely even debated anymore, as can be seen in the near-extinction of new rent-control efforts in the political sphere. You won’t see many op-eds this Labor Day arguing for price controls on fruit, gasoline, and apartments. You won’t see any articles denouncing homeowners for selling their homes at the highest price they can get, when they really should be slashing prices to make homeownership more affordable for first-time homebuyers.
So, for whatever reason, homeowners, grocers, and others are exempt from the wrath of the activists for not keeping real wages low. The employers, on the other hand — those who pay the nominal wage — remain well within the sights of the activists since, for some arbitrary reason, the full moral obligation of providing a living wage falls on the employer.