Read a Letter to President Bush and Congress from
Religious Leaders on Increasing the Minimum Wage
Saperstein: "Every time the Congress moves to increase the minimum wage, the naysayers predict dire economic impact and job losses for lower wage earners. Those predictions have consistently been proven wrong. In each case, the increase in the minimum wage has consistently helped poorer Americans help themselves, their families and our economy."
Contact: Alexis Rice or Rachel Orkand: (202) 387-2800
WASHINGTON, June 13, 2001 - Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism joined the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support in launching a national campaign to build support for the minimum wage bill and issued the following statement:
I am Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. I am here today 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 1.5 million Reform Jews across North America. I am here today because there is no single step we can take to better aid those making the difficult and often elusive journey from welfare to the workplace than to raise the minimum wage.
The Reform Jewish Movement has long joined our brothers and sisters in the faith community in making real the biblical teaching "Speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy" (Proverbs 31:9). We have worked 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.
That work, sadly, is as urgently needed today as ever before.
Today in cities and towns in every part of America, minimum wage employees are working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, and earning only $10,700 a year - $3,400 below the poverty line for a family of three. The real value of today's minimum wage is now 24 percent below what it was in 1979 and 30 percent below what it was in 1968.
How hypocritical for our government to push those in need off of public assistance in the name of "welfare to work" into jobs which offer a minimum wage which does not allow them to support themselves and their families -- and when by leaving the welfare rolls, such workers often lose medical and other benefits, leaving many worse off financially earning a full-time salary than they were on welfare. As more and more people reach the five-year limit on welfare benefits, we need to ensure that they jobs they enter will provide a sufficient income.
All this as the gap between rich and poor in our nation continues to grow. Between 1979 and 1997, according to a recently released Congressional Budget Office report, average after-tax income of the richest one percent of Americans grew by over $400,000 after adjusting for inflation. The average after-tax income for the poorest 20% of Americans fell $100.
Indeed, the need for emergency food services has increased 15-20% over the past year, according to pantries and soup kitchens; over one third of families seeking emergency food included an employed adult.
Every time the Congress moves to increase the minimum wage, the naysayers predict dire economic impact and job losses for lower wage earners. Those predictions have consistently been proven wrong. In each case, the increase in the minimum wage has consistently helped poorer Americans help themselves, their families and our economy.
Among the oldest known codified labor laws in human history is this line from the Hebrew Bible; "You shall not oppress a hired laborer who is poor and needy, whether he be of your people or of the strangers that are in the land within your gates" (Deuteronomy 24: 14-15). We seek to remember, every day, that "the Earth is the Eternal's and the fullness thereof" - that what we own we own in a trust relationship with God and that we are required by justice and righteousness to share God's wealth with those of God's children who are less fortunate than us.
My friends, to pay workers a minimum wage that will not allow them to support themselves and their children is to withhold their rightful share of prosperity, and to deprive them of justice and fairness.
For a fair minimum wage is more than a specific salary. It is the ability to lead a life with pride and dignity, and it is the ability to participate fully in the life of this nation, and to hold one's head high as a proud member of a community.
We come together today to join Senator Kennedy, Representative Bonior, and all of their esteemed colleagues, in recognizing that the time for justice and fairness is now. We call on this Congress, and this President, to make fair what is unjust, to make right what is so evidently wrong, to ensure that men and women across America can live in dignity, with their heads held high. Only in this way may we, and the members of this Congress and this Administration, live each day with our own heads held high.
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.