Last week marked the 75th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In addition to establishing a minimum wage, the FLSA also set the 40-hour 7-day work week, overtime pay, and child labor standards and prohibitions. In 1938 the minimum wage was set at 25 cents per hour. Now, that number is $7.25.
$7.25 per hour at a full-time job for 40 hours per work translates to an annual salary of $15, 080. This is just barely above the poverty line for an individual. If this minimum wage worker, however, is the sole breadwinner of a family of four, that family falls into poverty, with an income that is well under the national poverty threshold of $22,881. What is the point of a minimum wage if it forces a hard-working family into poverty?
We are told in Deuteronomy 15:11 that “there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you, open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.” Though the Torah recognizes that we cannot necessarily eliminate all poverty, we are taught that we must work to alleviate its impact. In addition, the Torah also emphasizes the importance of a worker’s wages. “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer… but you must pay him his wages on the same day, for he is needy and urgently depends on it (Deuteronomy 24:14-15).” Making sure the poor and the worker are provided for is a responsibility for society as well as for the individual.
If the minimum wage had kept pace with the cost of living over the past forty years, it would be more than $10.55 per hour. Instead, the minimum wage today is $7.25 per hour. An annual salary for someone working at a minimum wage totals $15,080, roughly the same as the poverty level for a single adult with a child. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 (S. 460/H.R. 1010) to raise the federal minimum wage through a series of gradual increases to an indexed rate of $10.10 over the next three years. This July 24th marks four years since the last time the federal minimum wage was raised. It is well past time to raise the wage!
Urge your Member of Congress to cosponsor the Fair Minimum Wage Act so that working Americans can break free from the cycle of poverty, and that we might all benefit from a stronger economy.
Image from National Employment Law Project Campaign