“No labor is menial unless you’re not getting adequate wages.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
There is clear public support for increasing the wages of the lowest paid workers in California. To date almost 30 cities and counties have passed minimum wage or living wage laws that lift the take home pay of California workers. Other proposals are pending: in El Cerrito in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is a hearing next week on a proposed increase in the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2020, with Cost of Living increases thereafter, plus paid sick days and insurance that workers benefit from so-called “service charges” or “hospitality fees.” Interfaith coalitions which include UUs have been vocal in their support for this proposal.
There is broad public support for these wage increases. Seventy-five per cent of all Americans support raising the federal minimum wage (currently at $7.25/hour) to $12.50 by 2020. An even larger majority of 63% supports an even greater increase, to $15/hour by 2020, and a still larger majority of 82% favors automatic cost of living increases so the wage can keep pace with inflation.
Statewide minimum wage increases have failed in the California Legislature in the last two sessions, but an initiative has been put forward that would raise the wage by $1/hour annually, to $15/hour in 2021, with automatic increases thereafter (http://www.liftupcawages.com/). The initiative has gained enough signatures to qualify for the ballot and 68% of the public favors it.
There is a crying need to raise wages for the lowest paid workers. For decades the minimum wage has fallen further and further behind increasing living costs, and recently those costs, especially for rent, have skyrocketed. The State’s average rent for a 2 bedroom apartment is now close to $1,400/month, while the annual self-sufficiency standard for a family of 4 is $64,000 (http://nlihc.org/oor/california, http://www.insightcced.org/past-archives/insight-networks/building-economic-security-for-all-besa/californians-for-economic-security-cfes/the-self-sufficiency-standard-for-california/). The State’s minimum wage as of January will be only $10/hour, or $20,800 a year before withholding. This puts a worker and their family well below the admittedly inadequate Federal Poverty Measure of $23,624.
A statewide increase in the minimum wage would have a major impact on our poverty rate –– which is currently at 27% for children, the highest in the nation. The working poor are a large proportion of those living in poverty: 55% of the poor live in families with at least one full time worker. Raising wages would give a much needed boost to 1.8 million Californians, more than half of whom are women, and 30% of whom have children.
As Unitarian Universalists who affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people we care about those who live with the suffering and insecurity that mark lives in poverty. The menial wages they are paid dishonor the dignity of their labor and condemn them to a never-ending struggle to meet the basic needs of their families and enable them to fulfill their human potential. Low wages further marginalize workers by denying them the means to meaningfully participate in the life of our communities.
Even an increased minimum wage will not be a living wage, but it is a significant step for underpaid workers, a step toward
- Ending poverty;
- Reducing reliance on government assistance programs to support workers;
- Stimulating economic activity in our communities, which benefits us all;
- Reviving the American dream for struggling families;
- Beginning to alleviate our severe inequality; and
- Bringing us closer to shared prosperity for all those who help create it.
TAKE ACTION! – We are in community with the most vulnerable in our society — those with unmet needs and little power to change the system. We are called to take action to welcome these workers and their families into the Beloved Community. Answer this call by taking action in your community to lift up underpaid workers, either through campaigns to raise the minimum wage, or by supporting workers in low wage jobs demanding that their humanity be recognized and respected. These include the OUR Walmart workers (www.makingchangeatwalmart.org), the Fast Food Workers (http://fightfor15.org/), or the Darden Restaurant Workers (http://www.dignityatdarden.org/) who work in one of the several chains owned by the Darden Corporation, like Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse.
For more information or to learn more about actions you and your congregation can take, contact the Economic Justice Action Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.