Tag Archives: Economic Justice
On this October 10, let's raise the minimum wage to 10 dollars an hour, and urge your members of congress to raise the wage at rac.org/alerts

On 10/10, Let’s Raise the Minimum Wage to $10.10/Hour

This Friday, it will be October 10th, or 10/10, a timely and unique opportunity for a major campaign to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10/hour, a $2.86/hour increase from its current rate of $7.25/hour.

Over the last forty years, the real value of the minimum wage has fallen by close to 30%, demonstrating a need to raise the wage to account for changing cost values. The 1968 federal minimum wage would be worth over $10/hour in today’s dollars – yet our current minimum wage of $7.25/hour is far below that. Our current minimum wage translates to a lifetime of poverty, not near enough for anyone to live by: in no states can a minimum wage worker afford a two-bedroom apartment working a 40 hour week. Read more…

Not Everyone Has a Sukkah To Call Home

This week, Jews around the world will be building sukkot (the plural of sukkah, a temporary three-walled shelter commemorating the booths or huts the Israelites built in the desert) to celebrate the aptly-named festival of Sukkot, which also celebrates our thanks for the fall harvest. Households and communities each build a sukkah and Jews are commanded to stay in these sukkot for the period of the festival: “You shall dwell in sukkot for seven days, every person in Israel will dwell in sukkot. In order that your generations will know that I made the children of Israel dwell in Sukkot when I took them out of Egypt, I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 23:42-43).

Yet while Jews build and live in temporary dwellings for a week (most of which are very close to permanent housing), many Americans are not given this flexibility. On a given night in 2012, 633,782 people were experiencing homelessness in the US. 3.5 million people experience homelessness in a given year. The number of homeless students reached an all-time high in 2012 of more than a million, or 2% of the student population. Many who are homeless work in full or part time jobs: a tumultuous economy makes it even more challenging for Americans to have a home to call their own. Even if they are employed, it is hard for many workers to earn enough money to own their own home.

One way that we can take action this Sukkot is by encouraging Congress and the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Administration (FHFA) to re-establish adequate funding for the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF). In 2008, Congress created the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) to create 3.5 million affordable housing units. However, due to a loophole in the law, the NHTF never received funding and it’s time to look for alternatives that will make this effort successful. Sequestration cuts have further restricted the number of programs available. Take action and urge tell your Members of Congress and FHFA Director Mel Watt to reestablish funding for the National Housing Trust Fund.

In addition to being commanded to build these shelters, we are instructed to welcome others into them: “When the people of Israel leave their homes and enter the sukkah for the sake of God’s name, they merit to welcome the Divine Presence there, and all the seven shepherds descend from Gan Eden and come to the sukkah as their guests” (Zohar, Emor 103a).” Helping the homeless is not a choice; rather, it is an obligation. As we are reminded of the importance of inviting others to visit our sukkah, we need to ensure that those who do not have a home have a place to go and we must act to ensure that these individuals can have homes in the future.

This morning, the RAC staff worked together to build a sukkah, which is outside of our building on Massachusetts Avenue. The RAC will also be hosting a Lunch in the Sukkah next Tuesday (October 14) at 12 pm. We look forward to welcoming you into our Sukkah to celebrate Sukkot – make sure to RSVP so you can join us next Tuesday.

This Sukkot, as you sleep under the stars and think of the harvest, think of how fortunate we are to choose to give up our permanent shelter for one week a year for our Sukkot and what we can do to ensure that no one needs to lack shelter outside of this one week a year.

Supreme Court

Supreme Court Case Young v. UPS Highlights Unique Common Ground Between Advocacy Groups

With our mandate to work on more than 70 social justice issues, we know that our voice is stronger when joined with our partners to make the changes we wish to see. In our work on the upcoming Supreme Court case Young v. United Parcel Service, we’ve done exactly that, this time with an unusual collection of advocacy groups who have come together around an issue on which we all agree.

In Young v. UPS, the Court will decide under what conditions, if any, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (the PDA) requires an employer that provides work accommodations to employees who are not pregnant but who have work limitations to provide like accommodations to pregnant employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.” The plaintiff is Peggy Young, a UPS delivery driver who became pregnant and whose doctor recommended she refrain from lifting packages heavier than 20 pounds to help ensure a healthy pregnancy. UPS denied Young the accommodation, instead forcing her to take an extended, unpaid leave of absence until she could return to work after her child was born. In addition to her wages, Young lost her medical insurance during her leave, compounding the economic hardship that resulted from UPS’s refusal to accommodate her medical needs. Young sued UPS under the PDA, which clarifies that pregnancy discrimination is, indeed, a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Read more…

Back to the Bench: First Day of the Supreme Court Term

If you’re a Supreme Court fanatic like I am, you’ve been eagerly awaiting the start of this year’s term for months (well, since early July). It’s finally here. I’m excited to begin following the justices again, although I’m a bit nervous for possible case outcomes this year given the Court’s recent decisions. Even if you haven’t been counting down the days, you should consider keeping up with the Court this year exactly because its recent decisions and upcoming cases are so critical. As we saw in cases like Citizens United and Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the Court can shape law and spark national debate in a profound way. The cases the Court will hear this year promise to do the same:

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Yes on Question 4 in Massachusetts; earned sick time now

Double Booked: No One Should Have to Choose Between A Healthy Family and A Job

In this season of renewal, Jews reflect on the year past and look forward to a 5775, a year that brings new opportunity. Since the launch of Double Booked this past January, we have identified some of the challenges that working families face today and discussed a wide variety of cultural, social, and policy solutions. The Jewish new year seems a fitting time to reveal the next phase of our Double Booked initiative, which will focus on working with our interfaith partners to lift up good internal employment policies as well as to engage our denominations and houses of worship in federal, state, and local initiatives to pass much-needed policies to support the modern American family.

One such policy is ensuring paid sick days. We are proud to report that the Union for Reform Judaism (which the RAC is part of) offers its employees a generous paid sick days policy. The Union demonstrated its strong support again for these policies in a new resolution that was passed at our 2013 Biennial.

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A family enjoys a meal around a table. The US Department of Agriculture has just released a report demonstrating that SNAP (formerly food stamps) can play a major role in fighting poverty, especially among children.

When You Fast For More Than 25 Hours

On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the holiest day of the Jewish year, we fast as an opportunity to reflect on the year past and turn to the future. The Torah instructs the Jewish people that “the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: You shall practice self-denial.”(Leviticus 23:27). The fast begins with the Kol Nidre evening service through the shofar’s final Tekiah Gedolah blast at the close of the Yom Kippur afternoon service. This is one way by which Jews around the world look inward and focus on t’shuvah (repentance) and t’fillah (prayer).

Yet, there are many in this country who do not have the luxury of being able to choose when they will or will not choose to eat. 46.2 million Americans live in poverty and 47 million Americans, or 15% of the population, receive SNAP benefits.According to 2013 data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), over 49 million Americans lived in a household that faced difficulty affording enough food in 2013. 15.8 million children struggled with food insecurity issues in the past year. Additionally, 50% of U.S children will receive SNAP benefits at some point before they reach the age of 20. Hunger is still taking place on a massive scale, both in the United States and around the world.

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A Healthy, Nutritious, and Sweet New Year For All Children

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is an opportunity for us to express our support for important government programs as we look towards the year ahead. In the next year, Congress will need to address issues regarding reauthorization for child nutrition programs. While the programs are permanently authorized, Congress uses the reauthorization process to review the laws and re allocate funding when the laws expire. One existing law in this policy area – the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – is set to expire on September 2015.

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Who Counts? A Census Report That Calls for Economic Justice In The Year To Come

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year, we will think about how we have changed from one year to the next: how we have grown, and we can do differently in the year to come. This evaluative work is also done by the federal government through the United States Census (an official count or survey of the population.)

Earlier this week, the U.S. Census Bureau issued its report on Income and Poverty in the United States for the year 2013. This report presents crucial metrics that can be utilized to evaluate the past year’s policies and ultimately improve current ones for the future. This most recent census report showed some signs of positive development. The U.S’ official poverty rate declined from 15.0% in 2012 to 14.5% in 2013, indicating that there has been some reduction in poverty. The poverty rate for children under the age of 18 declined from 21.8% in 2012 to 19.9% in 2013, making 2013 the first time that the child poverty rate has declined since 2000. Read more…

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