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Wage hike is 'economic, racial justice,' church leaders say

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The Rev. Larry Pickens
Nov. 3, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

Increasing the U.S. federal minimum wage is "a matter of economic and racial justice," according to a letter to Congress signed by 11 Christian leaders.

The leaders, representing Churches Uniting in Christ and more than 25 million church members, included the Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive, United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

"The United Methodist Church and the Wesleyan movement have both served on the vanguard of workers' rights throughout history," Pickens told United Methodist News Service. "This is no exception. Meeting the needs of working families who seek to work with dignity is a function of a civilized society."

Asking for approval of the wage increase when Congress resumes after the November elections, the Oct. 24 letter pointed out that the current minimum pay scale is a "poverty wage" that has an impact on all segments of society.

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Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Labor

This map shows the different minimum wage laws by state. Green: Wage is higher than the federal (includes Alaska and Hawaii). Blue: Same as the federal. Red: Lower than the federal. Yellow: No minimum wage law.
"Minimum wage workers today have less buying power than minimum wage workers did in 1950," the church leaders wrote.

Church leaders noted the "growing hidden underclass" in the United States and added that "poverty disproportionately affects people of color who, according to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, experience a higher rate of poverty in this country. Indeed, African Americans and Hispanics are nearly three times as likely to live under the poverty line, and nearly two times as likely to live under twice the official poverty."

Pickens said United Methodists are committed to addressing the need for a minimum wage increase and being "in solidarity with millions of people and working families who seek a livable wage."

He added that he was pleased to support the ecumenical initiative on the minimum wage, noting that poverty is an issue that draws diverse religious groups together.

"Eradicating poverty is an area on which there is agreement that the church has to play a role in advocating for workers and families," Pickens said.

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A UMNS Web-only photo courtesy of North Carolina Council of Churches

The “Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign” urges the U.S. Congress to pass an increase in the minimum wage.
Other signers of the letter were the Rt. Rev. Philip R. Cousin Sr., senior bishop, African Methodist Episcopal Church; Bishop William Graves Sr., senior bishop, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop and primate, Episcopal Church, USA; the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; and the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the general assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Also, the Rev. Michael Livingston, president, International Community of Churches; the Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president, United Church of Christ; the Most Rev. George W. Walker Sr., senior bishop, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; the Rev. Sharon E. Watkins, general minister and president, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); and the Rev. David Wickmann, president, Provincial Elders, Moravian Church, Northern Province.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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