Enough With the Bare Minimum: It’s Time for a Living Wage
Did you know that there is not a single state in the United States in which a person earning minimum wage, working 40 hours a week can afford a two-bedroom apartment? A person earning the federal minimum wage – $7.25 – cannot provide for his or her basic needs and the basic needs of his or her family. The current federal minimum wage has only been increased three times in the past thirty years, despite inflation. In fact, had the minimum wage been adjusted for inflation over the past 40 years, it would now be $10.69. Instead, it remains more than $3 per hour lower in real value than it was 40 years ago. As such, the minimum wage is currently decreasing in real value, affecting the lives of millions of minimum wage workers throughout the country working full time and living in poverty.
Growing up, I often worked as a volunteer at a homeless shelter. I remember hearing the residents’ stories of how difficult life was for them, working full time but still unable to afford a home for themselves and their children. Hearing these residents’ stories taught me at a young age that employment does not guarantee that a person will be able to rise out of poverty or even provide for the most basic needs of his or her children.
The current minimum wage is far below a living wage – a term used by activists and economists for the minimum income needed for a worker to be able to meet his or her basic needs, such as food, shelter, and clothing. A living wage would allow a person working full time to rise to the poverty line, rather than be perpetually stuck below it. Although the cost of living and, as such, the living wage varies throughout the country, the current minimum wage is too low and leaves too many working people without a means of paying for their basic needs.
The fight to raise minimum wage to a just wage will almost certainly be fought in state legislative battles. While in an ideal world, Congress would pass a federal law creating a national fair minimum wage. However, as individuals, we have far more power to affect legislation on the local and state levels. This summer, I am working as an intern at Jews United for Justice – a non-profit organization that works to organize the Jewish community in the greater Washington, D.C. area around issues of social justice. JUFJ is currently running a campaign to raise the minimum wage in Maryland. We must take this approach to the issue of the minimum wage and employ it in our communities throughout the country.
As Jews, we have the responsibility to care for those in need. The great Jewish philosopher Maimonides teaches us that we have the responsibility not only to feed the hungry and provide basic necessities for those in need, but also to ensure that those in need are able to become self-sufficient. Raising the minimum wage to a living wage – or at the very least to a wage closer to the living wage – would allow Americans currently living in poverty to attain a decent standard of living. I urge you to learn about and support living wage campaigns in your community, your home state. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of millions of people and allow people the dignity of being able to provide for themselves and their families.