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Victories for Economic Justice! Two States #RaiseTheWage

Victories for Economic Justice! Two States #RaiseTheWage

This month, New York and California both raised their state minimum wage to $15 an hour, the highest statewide wage in the country. These actions represent a major victories for 6.5 million Californians and 2 million New Yorkers who will see their income increase when the new laws are finally implemented. The two states tailored their plans to ensure that workers would see a fair wage increase, and that businesses would have the time to adapt to the new measures.

The New York State legislature increased their minimum wage as part of a $156 billion budget for fiscal year 2017. The deal included provisions that will gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 in New York City in 2018, and in Long Island and Westchester County by 2023. The minimum wage would also increase over these six years to $12.50 an hour throughout the rest of upstate New York. The minimum wage upstate will be indexed to inflation until it reaches $15 an hour.

In California, the state legislature agreed on a proposal increasing the minimum wage statewide to $15 an hour by 2022. California already tied Massachusetts in having the highest state minimum wage, at $10 an hour.

These state efforts have been motivated, in part, by the fact that the federal minimum wage not been increased since 2009. As the cost of living continues to rise, the minimum wage’s purchasing power declines each year. If you adjust the minimum wage for inflation, its value is lower today than it was in 1968. And, as states provide services to those living below the poverty line, many have recognized that providing a fair wage to those who work is a more efficient, effective, and dignified way to take care of families.  29 states and the District of Columbia have already set a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage, but the low federal minimum wage still exacerbates pay disparities between men and women and prevents millions of Americans from lifting themselves out of poverty.

The Jewish tradition implores us to provide fair wages to all workers. The Torah teaches, “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer… but you must pay him his wages on the same day, for he is needy and urgently depends on it” (Deuteronomy 24:14-15). Paying low wage workers “poverty wages” prevents them from being able to take care of their most essential needs. New York and California remind us that we can and should do much better nationwide.

Visit the RAC’s economic justice page for more updates on states that are committed economic fairness. Also Urge Congress to pass the Raise the Wage Act, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour.

Tyler Dratch is the Torah, text, and tradition coordinator at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC) and a rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Newton, MA.

Tyler Dratch

Published: 4/25/2016