Last week low-income working Americans finally got a raise when the federal minimum wage was increased after years of growing poverty levels. Pehaps no one was more responsible for this than The Rev. Dr. Paul Sherry, the founder of Let Justice Roll, a project of the National Council of Churches, and the former general minister and president of the United Church of Christ. At a press conference held this week with Congressional leaders he said:
This is a good day, isn't it? After ten long years, America's low wage workers and families are getting a break. It's about time -- and Let Justice Roll is very glad to be part of it. Let Justice Roll is a nonpartisan coalition of over 90 faith-based, community-based, labor and business organizations united around one single goal -- working together to establish a living wage for all of our country's working people.
We have worked alongside many others to raise the minimum wage in a growing number of states -- Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia. We have worked in support of city and county-wide living wage ordinances. And we have worked in support of the federal legislation we celebrate today. All with one purpose: reaching a living wage for all of America's working people -- a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.
We believe that a job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it.
With Martin Luther King, we believe, "There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American (worker) whether he (or she) is a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid, or day laborer."
And with the prophet Amos, we envision a renewed society wherein "justice rolls down like living waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream." That is the very definition of a good and decent society.
Yes, today is a good day. But, even as we celebrate, we know that we have a long way to go if justice is to be done for America's low wage working people.
Even at $7.25 an hour in 2009, the minimum wage, in inflation adjusted dollars, will be more than $2 below what it was in the year 1968 -- four decades ago. We do have a long way to go.
In the meantime, low wage working families will continue to struggle mightily with the ever increasing costs of health care, housing, education, and so much else.
When the Fair Labor Standards Act was established, way back in 1938, the Act was designed "to eliminate labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for the health, efficiency and general well-being of workers." The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at which Dr. King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, called for a national minimum wage act that will give all Americans a decent standard of living. How far we are from those noble and visionary goals. We do have a long way to go.
A just minimum wage is not only ethically right; it is also economically right. A just minimum wage is good for workers. A just minimum wage is good for business and the economy. Speaking of business, nearly 800 business owners and executives representing every state in the nation have signed a statement endorsing a minimum wage increase at www.businessforafairminimumwage.org.
A just minimum wage is good for our common future. So, we dare not and we will not cease our efforts until all working people receive a living wage.
Let Justice Roll will work, along with many others, in support of future federal legislation to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We will work in support of minimum wage legislation at the state level and for living wage ordinances at the local and state level -- places like Georgia, Kansas, Oklahoma and Cuyahoga County, Ohio.
We will continue to make the case that raising the minimum wage is a central moral and economic issue of our time. Morality demands that a job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it.
Yes this is a good day, a day to celebrate. On this day, even as we celebrate, let us look forward to an even better day. A day when all working people will receive a truly living wage -- a wage that will give all of America's families a decent standard of living. On that day, justice will roll down like living waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Let's do it!
Congratulations to all who worked hard for this victory. Now let's all get back to work. My friend Rev. Sherry is right that we still have along way to go.