Pelavin: "There is no single step we can take to better aid those making the difficult and often elusive journey from welfare to the workplace, and no challenge which more urgently demands our attention.
Contact: Rachel Orkand (202)387-2800
WASHINGTON, February 7, 2001 - In a press conference today, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Representative David Bonior (D-MI) introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2001, a bill which calls for a federal minimum wage of $5.75/hour 30 days after enactment, $6.25/hour on January 1, 2002, and $6.65/hour on January 1, 2003. Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement in firm support of the bill:
On behalf of the 900 congregations of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and the 1,700 Rabbis of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, comprising the 1.5 million Reform Jews across North America, I am pleased to again offer our full support of Senator Kennedy and Representative Bonior's unwavering efforts to raise the federal minimum wage. There is no single step we can take to better aid those making the difficult and often elusive journey from welfare to the workplace, and no challenge which more urgently demands our attention.
The Reform movement has a proud tradition of making real the biblical teaching "Speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy" (Proverbs 31:9) by working to ensure that our nation's poor are treated with dignity, respect, and, most importantly, given a fair chance to escape the binds of poverty. Our tradition teaches that it is more valuable to help a person become self-supporting than it is to give that person a handout of food or money. Increasing the minimum wage will help those in entry-level jobs be less reliant on federal assistance programs and be more self-sufficient.
The current minimum wage is not a livable wage for working women and men across the United States. A full-time worker receiving minimum wage earns only $10,700 a year -- $2,900 below the poverty line for a family of three. To reach the purchasing power it had in 1968, the minimum wage today would have to be $7.33 an hour. While the average pay of a CEO has gone up almost 500% in the last fifteen years, and inflation has risen 86%, the minimum wage has increased by only 27%. While encouraging and even mandating that women and men across this country enter the workforce, the United States government does not presently ensure that these individuals are justly compensated for the work that they do.
We commend Senator Kennedy and Representative Bonior for their leadership on this issue, and commit ourselves to working with them and others, including those joined here today, who share our passion for justice, to enact the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2001. As Americans and as Jews, it is our responsibility to see that the blessings bestowed on our nation are distributed fairly. A higher, fairer, minimum wage is what America's working poor need. It is what sound public policy dictates. It is what our values demand.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) whose membership includes over 1700 Reform rabbis.