Let’s get real. Any adult working for $7.25 an hour is being exploited, and the $9.60 Rhode Island minimum beginning January 1, 2016 also falls far short of being just.
Ask any Haitian garment worker: Survival requires servitude—-even if paid a scandalous 64 cents an hour.
Slavery is forced labor which legally rescinds all freedoms. A poverty wage is wage slavery, legally allowing employers to pay wages which eliminate many freedoms: The freedom to obtain decent housing; the freedom to take a paid vacation or sick day; the freedom to spend time with children; the freedom to retire; and, for some families, even the freedom to eat every day of the month.
Of course, the minimum wage promotes at least one freedom: The freedom to work two or three jobs.
The Declaration of Independence speaks eloquently to the minimum wage, stating that the Creator endows us “with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
How can a person experience Life when their work is punished with poverty? How can a person experience Liberty when unjust wages impose soul-crushing limitations? How can a person pursue Happiness with the drudgery of constant work? Are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness truly today’s “unalienable Rights”?
Living Wage Benefits Many
Two practical arguments win the day for a minimum wage which is a living wage. First, a raise stimulates the economy because minimum wage workers spend virtually all they receive. For example, with a raise to $10.10, the Economic Policy Institute estimates the boost in Gross Domestic Product would support the creation of 85,000 new jobs.
Second, a raise also decreases government spending to assist minimum-wage workers. Think corporate welfare. Government’s indirect subsidies to unethical businesses cease when a living wage is mandated.
The most pertinent argument for a living wage is moral. As the Apostle Paul wrote: “The worker deserves his [or her] wages.”
I recently heard a politician cynically argue we could raise the minimum wage to $50. This logical fallacy is absurd. Similarly, we could argue for a minimum wage of three dollars. Of course, the minimum wage should be the legally permissible minimum enabling a decent life.
Some opponents maintain the minimum wage is for training teenagers. To the contrary, the Department of Labor reports 88 percent are at least age 20. Moreover, even a single adult requires $11.86 an hour to escape poverty.
At least $12 an hour—and a benefits package which includes health insurance, vacation time, sick time and retirement pay—would provide a living wage. Indeed, the Institute for Policy Studies estimates that if the 1968 minimum wage was adjusted for income growth and inflation, workers would receive $21.16. The U.S. permits 34% of this wage.
Pols Opposing Minimum Wage
This prompts the question: Who is responsible for this repugnant impoverishment of workers? The answer is straightforward. While raises are frequently passed when Democrats are in charge, Republicans blocked all raises during the 16 years of the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations.
In what moral universe do these politicians live?
The jargon of plutocrats and pols tell the story: They cite ‘capitalism’ (meaning the choice of those with capital to fleece workers); they cite ‘the free market’ (meaning misers seek freedom from regulation so they can pay paltry wages); and they cite ‘supply and demand’ (meaning employees are priced the same as goods and services—-ignoring the requirements for Life).
Worshipping at the altar of unregulated capitalism justifies treating people as property. Isn’t this the very definition of slavery? What a crude and callous obscenity.
Want to make a difference? Encourage your RI Senator and Representative now to introduce a living wage bill this January. You can identify your state legislators at https://sos.ri.gov/vic. Oppose the moral outrage of today’s slave labor with a demand for wise and caring justice.
Rev. Harry Rix is a retired pastor and mental health counselor living in Providence, RI. He has 50 articles on spirituality and ethics, stunning photos, and 1200 inspiring quotations available at www.quoflections.org. ©2015 Harry Rix. All rights reserved.