Living Wage Calculator Sums Up Income Inequality in South Africa

Sep 112015

Want to know if you’re paying your domestic worker a living wage? A new data journalism tool allows employers in South Africa to find out the answer to that question.

The ​Living Wage Calculator was created by Code for South Africa (Code4SA) to focus attention on a large and essential sector of the country’s labor force. Domestic workers make up 6 percent of South African workers. The project was funded by Open Society Foundations (OSF), while Code4SA's data journalism work is supported by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).

Launched on South Africa’s biggest news site, News24, the calculator features a brief survey asking employers to tell how much they pay their workers. It then uses nine indicators to calculate whether the rate is fair. These include the size of the worker’s household, and the cost of food, housing, transportation and education.

More than 46,000 people actively used the site in its first few weeks, and more than 12,000 took the survey.

The result is perhaps the largest current data set about domestic workers' wages in South Africa, says ICFJ Knight Fellow Chris Roper, who leads a team of Knight International Journalism Fellows working to introduce data journalism tools and techniques to newsrooms across Sub-Saharan Africa.

“The idea was not to produce a tool that was rigorous and scientific, but one that would spark conversation, drive employers to examine unconscious assumptions, and prompt people to think about the lives of domestic workers,” Roper wrote in a recent blogpost.

Data from the Living Wage Calculator is being used to produce news stories about income inequity, such as a multimedia package titled “Living on the Edge,” which focuses on the lives and struggles of three domestic workers in the Western Cape region of South Africa: Primrose, who manages to put aside money for her son’s university education despite earning a meager salary; Justine, who fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo and now works as a maid to support her family; and Nosiphiwo, who turned to work as a traditional healer because of her poor salary as a domestic worker.

Roper says the calculator is “a good example of how a simple idea, based on rudimentary data, can generate great stories and user-interaction.”

The calculator, which was produced in a week and a half, was the idea of Adi Eyal, Code4SA’s director. Code4SA was founded with a grant from the African News Innovation Challenge, led by ICFJ Knight Fellow Justin Arenstein.

Main mage CC-licensed on Flickr via Paul Saad. Secondary image: screenshot of Living Wage Calculator.

Homepage slideshow image CC-licensed by Flickr via Images Money.

YouTube video courtesy of Code for South Africa and Kim Harrisberg.