The minimum wage jumped 70 cents today, to $5.85 per hour. After two more hikes, it’ll reach $7.25 in 2009. Let Justice Roll, a coalition of faith, labor and community groups, fought hard for the increase, the first in a decade. The group has also organized efforts to pass minimum wage increases or living wage laws in 21 states, from New Hampshire to California. Their work is indispensable to the movement to end poverty in America.
Progress is always worth rejoicing over, but we need to keep in mind that $7.25, let alone $5.85, isn’t a living wage for even a small family. The minimum wage hike will put money directly into the pockets of the working poor, but not enough to lift them out of poverty (see table 1.1 in the linked report). Until we ensure that every job provides a living wage, we’re effectively legislating poverty.
I’ve seen the effects of an inadequate minimum wage. When I was a teacher, one of my colleagues and I bought a winter coat for an 8th grade student after I saw him wearing a t shirt and no jacket on a 35-degree November day. His mother had a full-time job cleaning a hospital, but she could not afford to keep her rapidly growing son warm through the winter. It is sad and outrageous that we tolerate such deprivation in a nation as wealthy as ours. We can’t relent in the effort to end poverty, even on a day of good news.
Center for American Progress Director of Resources for Global Growth Jake Caldwell explains that as the Congress takes up the farm bill – it means something for EVERYONE: climate change, national security, trade, energy policy and the economy — so it’s worth paying attention to.
Last year, over 5000 Houston janitors signed up with the SEIU, the Service Employee’s International Union, to press for living wages and benefits that at least match those found in other states. They named their cause “Justice for Janitors,” and they called a strike just this week to fight for a living wage. But joining a union is a risky move for someone in a low-skill job when your entire livelihood is on the line and your employer has little incentive to change.
According to the AFL-CIO blog: Faith groups have become vital voices in the effort to educate their communities about the problems of worker when they try to form a union to bargain for a better life.
For example, Interfaith Worker Justice Executive Director Kim Bobo has written an article in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act that will appear in two influential national religious magazines–The Christian Century and Sojourners. IWJ also is preparing to release an updated version of its popular “Why Do Unions Matter?â€
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Employee Free Choice Act in March. The bill, S. 1041, is now pending in the Senate. If it is enacted, the act would restore balance to the system of forming unions and bargaining. Under current labor law, the employer gets to decide whether workers can form their union through either ballot elections or majority sign-up. The Employee Free Choice Act changes it so that workers get to make that choice. The legislation also creates real penalties for employers who illegally interfere with organizing efforts and sets up a system to ensure that workers get a first contract even if their employers refuse to bargain in good faith.
JSpot notes that the Employee Free Choice Act comes up to the Senate on Monday and could get a vote by Wednesday. According to the Jewish Funds for Justice, this is one of the best ways for poor workers to list themselves out of poverty. Take action here. .
The Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill (RWG) is a coalition of sixteen Churches and faith-based organizations: Bread for the World, Church World Service, The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), Washington Office, United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, Lutheran World Relief, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, NETWORK, Progressive National Baptist Convention, and Together For Hope: The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Rural Poverty Initiative.
The reason that such a massive coalition formed is because 2007 represents a critical moment in U.S. agricultural policy.
But perhaps you’re not a farmer, so how does the farm bill affect you?
Daniel Imhoff is a writer and researcher on issues related to food, the environment, and design. He is the author of numerous articles, essays, and books including Paper or Plastic: Searching for Solutions to an Overpackaged World (Watershed Media/Sierra Club Books 2005); Farming with the Wild: Enhancing Biodiversity on Farms and Ranches (Watershed Media/Sierra Club Books 2003).
The group is also urging Congress to address the negative impact current U.S. agricultural and trade policies have on people living in impoverished countries around the world. . .
Church World Service and Oxfam America is especially concerned about recent unprecedented levels of market consolidation in agriculture which make competition unfair and leads to greater poverty in the U.S. and in the developing world. Production controlled by a limited number of corporate interests eliminates market transparency and creates an environment ripe for price manipulation and discrimination. It creates an atmosphere where supply and demand are controlled by the same actors. To remedy this problem, CWS recommends that stronger competition policies with reliable enforcement mechanisms are included in the 2007 Farm Bill
They write: “PICO, a national network of one thousand religious congregations and schools in 150 cities and 18 states, has been working on a step-by-step campaign to expand access to health care to uninsured children. This is part of the campaign for SCHIP reauthorization. SCHIP is a lifeline for 6 million children whose parents cannot obtain family coverage at work. Already PICO federations in California have helped develop county-level programs to cover all children in half the counties in California.”
PICO’s Road Map for Covering all Children as part of SCHIP reauthorization includes enough funding to protect children now enrolled, without putting Medicaid at-risk; incentives for states to expand eligibility and reach out to eligible children; support for innovative outreach programs; policies that cut red tape to increase enrolment among eligible children; and incentives to increase workplace coverage. All this by 2012.
And here’s the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Center for Children and Families which states: “SCHIP and Medicaid have been resoundingly successful in providing health care to children. Despite the success, more still needs to be done to cover the remaining 9 million children in America who are uninsured. The SCHIP Portal is a resource for those involved in the efforts to reauthorize SCHIP and finish the job of getting children covered.”