Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that I was the oldest audience member in the Broadway theater last weekend, except for parents with their pre-teens. “Newsies” is, after all, a Disney musical. In our standing room only “seats,” my friend and I were able to dance along to all of the songs we had known by heart since seventh grade. As we sang along—sometimes a little too loudly — I realized a lot of the meaning of the lyrics I had missed years ago.
If there’s one new sleight-of-hand term we’ve learned in the past few months, it’s “flexibility.” Last week, flexibility gained a new meaning, as the House of Representatives passed the so-called Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013. Flexibility in this bill, though, actually means less flexibility, less choice, less time and less money for working families.
This bill proposes to grant workers more flexibility by allowing them to convert overtime hours into future vacation time, instead of earning extra pay. Speaker John Boehner says that this would grant working parents the flexibility to choose more time off when they need it: “This week, we’ll pass [Representative] Martha Roby’s bill to help working moms and dads better balance their lives between work and their responsibilities as parents.” In reality, though, this bill is nothing but bad news for parents.
For many people the end of April means a nice surprise check waiting in the mailbox, a little bonus refund from the IRS. But for millions of American families, that check includes the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a vital boost that lifts approximately 6 million people out of poverty and into the middle class. That means that this refundable credit is the largest anti-poverty program in the country—not welfare, not homeless shelters and not volunteer soup kitchens.
This post is part of our Passover series, in which we think about the application of our age-old Passover story and traditions to the crucial issues we face today. For ways to infuse your seder with social justice, see our holiday guide.
The Passover story becomes a grand one about liberation and the birth of the Jewish people, but we cannot forget that it begins with questions of justice in the workplace. Moses’ moment of realization comes from witnessing the mistreatment of a worker by a supervisor. That indignity is the spark that mobilizes an entire movement, an entire people. The question remains, what will we do today when we witness the indignities and injustices still faced by millions in the workplace? To be clear, these injustices do not rival that of slavery, but they merit our attention and action.
Four years after the official end of the recession, working families still struggle to keep themselves out of poverty. With a current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, which translates to an annual salary of $15,080, it is nearly impossible for many families to make ends meet. Judaism teaches us that poverty is destructive to human dignity. Urge your Members of Congress to cosponsor the Fair Minimum Wage of 2013, and help create economic opportunity for all.
The word “poor” is the newest four-letter word. Our ears burn with politicians’ talk of the “middle class” and the “rising middle class.” But rarely, if ever, do we hear them speak about the poor.