In "The Sin of Wages: A Dispute Over Raising the Minimum" [Business, July 20], Rudolph A. Pyatt Jr. correctly identifies the fundamental question in the debate over the proposed living wage legislation: Is $5.15 an hour enough for families to make ends meet? The answer is a resounding no.

Mr. Pyatt, however, is incorrect in his assertion that there is a glaring shortage of empirical evidence that defines a livable wage for the Washington metropolitan area. We, in fact, do know how much money families of different sizes need to earn to meet their basic needs without any public or private subsidies.

Wider Opportunities for Women has calculated self-sufficiency standards for 10 states and areas. These standards add up the costs of living and working -- housing, child care, food, transportation, medical care, miscellaneous expenses, taxes (and tax credits) -- to come up with bottom-line wages for families based on the number and age of children and geographical location.

According to the self-sufficiency standard for Montgomery County, a single parent with a school-age child needs to earn $13.61 an hour to cover his expenses; if that parent also had a preschool-age child, he would need to earn $19.21 an hour (child care being a major expense). By contrast, a two-parent family with an infant and a preschool-age child each need to earn $11.62 an hour to meet their needs.

These figures give perspective to the $9- to $10.44-an-hour wages proposed in Montgomery County and provide the compelling evidence that Mr. Pyatt calls for.



The writer is director of research at Wider Opportunities for Women.