A Labor Day message from Stuart Appelbaum
The Torah provides a moral imperative: “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” In practical terms in today’s economic environment, that means at the very least we should support a just minimum wage – a wage that will enable working people to support themselves and their families. And we must partner with others to ensure that it happens.
We in the Jewish Labor Committee are proud to be part of this campaign both on the federal level and in Alaska, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington DC, Los Angeles or wherever state and local governments are attempting to act while the Congress fails to.
The current federal minimum wage isn’t a living wage. At $7.25 an hour, today’s full-time minimum-wage worker makes just $15,080 a year. Even in a family with two people working minimum-wage jobs, household income hovers at the poverty level. And that’s assuming they are lucky enough to have full-time jobs.
Moreover, the makeup of minimum-wage workers has changed. Partly because of the latest economic downturn, more low-wage workers today are older and better educated than ever. In addition, more of those earning the minimum wage are people supporting their families, not teens earning money for movie tickets.
Meanwhile, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has plummeted. From January 1981 to April 1990, the federal minimum wage was never raised. In 2007, Congress raised the federal minimum wage by $2.10, to $7.25 per hour, as a first step toward restoring it to its historic value. But for the minimum wage to have the same purchasing power today that it had back in 1968, it would have to be more than $10 per hour now. That is why the federal rate is still not enough to support a family, and those living in communities where the state or city minimum wage has been raised a bit face a similar challenge.
American Jews should remember the situation confronting so many of our ancestors, who could earn only poverty wages in the garment trades and other sectors when they first arrived in the United States.
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