Workers protesting low wages with a sign saying "Hard work deserves fair pay!"

Learning from the Past to Create a More Economically Just Future

In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim (and the beginning of the book of Deuteronomy), Moses begins his recounting of the Israelites’ forty-year-long journey in the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:1-21). Moses’ reflection on the past as the Israelites’ time of wandering comes starts to end offers a timely lesson for us to take stock of where we are in our journey towards economic justice.

Much has changed since July 2009: for me personally, I graduated from high school, started and graduated college, moved to Washington D.C. for a new job and went for more runs than I could possibly count (I’m a lifelong runner). But there’s one key thing that has remained stagnant: our federal minimum wage has not change since July 24, 2009, which was the last time it rose as part of a series of gradual increases. The bill, first introduced in 2007, had raised the minimum wage from $6.55 an hour to $7.25 an hour.

This is unacceptable and it is long past time for the U.S. to raise its federal minimum wage. Today’s minimum wage hasn’t kept up with inflation, and too many working families still struggle to keep themselves out of poverty. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour translates to an annual salary of $15,080—below the poverty line for a single parent with one child. It is nearly impossible for many families to make ends meet on the current minimum wage.

The Raise the Wage Act, (S. 1150/H.R. 2150) introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA-3), would bring the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 by a series of gradual increases. It would also index the minimum wage to the median wage to maintain its value and provide stability and predictability for employers.

The National Employment Law Project reports that many different constituencies would benefit from the Raise the Wage Act:

  • 35 million workers (more than one in four)
  • 30 percent of wage-earning women (19.6 million women)
  • 35 percent of African American workers
  • 38 percent of Hispanic workers
  • Lower-income families: Half of affected workers have total family incomes of less than $40,000 a year

By putting more purchasing power into the pockets of millions of Americans, raising the minimum wage will not only help families make ends meet, it will also be a valuable economic stimulus. It’s time to raise the wage: to boost our economy, to help lift our working families out of poverty and to bring justice to so many workers across our country.

Our Jewish tradition calls on us to support worker justice. 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.” Making sure the poor and the worker are provided for is a responsibility for society as well as for the individual.

This July 24, remember the anniversary of the last time the federal minimum wage was increased and sign this petition to tell your Members of Congress to support the Raise the Wage Act!

Check out the RAC’s economic justice page to learn more.

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Melanie Fineman

About Melanie Fineman

Melanie Fineman is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She graduated from Brown University in 2014 and is originally from Newton, Massachusetts, where she is a member of Temple Shalom of Newton.

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