|Faith leaders call for increase in U.S. 'living wage'|
North Carolinians demonstrate for an increase in the minimum wage
during a 2006 rally in Raleigh. A UMNS photo courtesy of the North
Carolina Council of Churches.
A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
Jan. 16, 2009
Faith leaders across the United States have joined a national effort to increase the federal minimum wage to $10 by 2010.
United Methodist Board of Church and Society is among a group
representing 11 denominations and national faith organizations signing
a letter of support to end “poverty wages” and lift the economy by
raising the minimum wage.
The letter from Let Justice Roll calls on the 111th
Congress “to raise the minimum wage and join us in bringing needed
economic security to our families, our communities and our country.” According to the coalition, nearly 400 faith leaders from across the country are supporting the $10 in 2010 campaign.
The increase in unemployment as well as a rise in the
numbers of employed men and women seeking assistance from food banks
and homeless shelters compelled faith leaders to support the
coalition’s campaign for living wages.
Throughout the weekend honoring the Rev. Martin
Luther King, Jr., Let Justice Roll is conducting and participating in
Living Wage events—community gatherings and worship services—to support
state and local campaigns.
“It is important that work is valued, rather than
seeing labor as simply another cost to be contained,” said John Hill, a
staff member of the Board of Church and Society. “The (Let Justice
Roll) movement highlights the need to develop an economy where
prosperity is shared, not hoarded by the few, and where hard work
enables individuals and families to live lives of dignity, not lives
trapped in cycles of poverty.”
General Conference action
The social action agency signed the letter because of
the 2008 General Conference’s adoption and revision of its resolution
on Rights of Workers. The resolution states that The United Methodist
Church supports efforts in Congress to raise the minimum wage to a
“When the last minimum wage was adopted, we
specifically stated our support was for that measure as a step in the
right direction. … This would be another step towards our historic
vision of a living wage in every industry,” Hill said. The economy
would be strengthened if the minimum wage were increased, he said.
Policymakers are focused on “stimulating” the economy,
to get more money in the hands of ‘consumers’ who will spend it, he
said. “If wages increase, we know that would put real money in the
hands of those who need it the most and who would spend it quickly on
necessities in their local communities,” he pointed out.
When the federal minimum wage increased to $6.55
an hour last July, it still left workers with less buying power than
they had in 1997, which was the start of the longest period without a
raise since the minimum wage was enacted in1938, according to the Rev.
Steve Copley, chairman of Let Justice Roll.
“Our economy wouldn't be in such a mess if wages
had not fallen so far behind the cost of living and income inequality
had not grown to levels last seen on the eve of the Great Depression,"
said Holly Sklar, senior policy adviser for Let Justice Roll.
Hill believes if the prosperity generated in this
country had been more evenly shared, the undergirding of the economy
would have been stronger and the pain currently felt by those on the
“economic margins” would have been far less severe. “It remains
unconscionable that we have full-time workers earning less than poverty
wages – and incurring debt or relying on government assistance simply
to secure life’s necessities.”
King was killed in Memphis in 1968 while advocating for salary increases for sanitation workers. Let Justice Roll says that it would take $10 to match the purchasing power of the 1968 minimum wage.
The letter signed by Church and Society and other
faith groups says it “immoral” that the minimum wage “is worth less now
than it was the year Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.” The
coalition said that the eroded value of the minimum wage has reinforced
growing inequality, which has given the richest 1 percent of Americans
a greater share of the nation’s income than any year since 1928.
“This has undermined our communities, our economy and our democracy.”
According to Hill, King’s vision “was one
of shared prosperity where all God’s children had a place at the table
and were nourished by God’s abundance. Placing those on the economic
margins squarely in the center of our economic policies is essential to
realizing this vision.”
He said that for too long, low-wage workers have
been denied access to the table, “a table they probably built, set and
served,” but have been forced to stand on the sidelines while others
benefited from their work. “This movement is one of shared prosperity
where every worker can live a life of dignity and enjoy God’s
The letter calls an adequate minimum wage a
“bedrock moral value” for the nation. “Where the Congress sets the
minimum wage reflects whether our society truly believes that workers
are human beings with inherent dignity, inalienable rights and basic
needs such as food, shelter and healthcare.”
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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