As a recent college graduate, I am watching the demands for a living wage grow, and I know that my peers and I have something deep at stake. The student debt crisis speaks to this.

But low wages are not reserved for fresh-out-of-college kids trying to get their foot in the labor-force door.

This myth is busted quickly, both by the fact that there are entry-level jobs in the tech industry that pay higher salaries than most people will ever earn, and by the fact that many folks work for low wages indefinitely.

Here’s the distinction. We are not simply talking about low-wage jobs; we are talking about low-wage industries.

Consider the spaces where national mobilizations are happening currently: the fast food industry, Wal-Mart (yes, I’ll call it an industry), domestic workers, food service.

These are industries that rely on the deep exploitation of the labor force in order to concentrate wealth for a select few. And they diminish our capacity for strong communities.

Taking a step back, I want to put into context how far the current minimum wage is from meeting basic needs. A minimum-wage worker in this state would need to work 81 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom unit at fair market rent (according to “Out of Reach 2012,” a report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition).

With all this in mind, wages are not simply an economic metric; they are a manifestation of power in the workplace and in our society. People of color, immigrants and women disproportionately make sub-living wages in low-wage industries.

When we demand a living wage, we are fighting for institutional and political commitment to racial, gender and economic justice. When we demand a living wage, we are collectively fighting for a healthier, more democratic and more just society.

Olivia May

Portland