Jeff Bezos’ base minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour. Good for him. It was the right thing to do. Other companies like Walmart have followed Bezo’s lead and raised wages for their employees as well to $11 an hour from the federal minimum wage.
The last time wages were increased for the average worker it was July 24, 2009. The federal minimum wage was raised to $7.25 an hour. This dramatically connotes that although the cost of living is going up, wages are still stagnant and not able to keep up with the demands of society and the cost of living for the average family.
In a Capitalist system where a person negotiates his pay, it’s hard to argue that the market determines what is fair. This has been taught in school and Americans have grown up with the concepts long enough to know. But in a society where some of the largest corporations pay their CEO’s millions of dollars, it’s hard to stomach when those same companies don’t pay their people a livable wage.
Many factors are determining the wages of individuals: the cost of producing goods, the rise in automation and less need for workers, the continued exodus to countries that produce goods cheaper and welcome companies with tax incentives or in some cases limited taxes and payoffs to government officials with one lump sum payment,
America’s manufacturing base continues to be undermined as we move to a service economy, which has prompted skilled workers to reconsider skill sets in order to provide for their families.
In her book “Nickel and Dimed,” Barbara Ehrenreich argues that every job requires certain skill sets that are worth more than a livable wage. Whatever the case may be. Ehrenreich details the hardships of four occupations and goes to work under cover to see how people in these jobs make it. The jobs were a Walmart greeter, a maid, a house cleaner and home health aid. Working these jobs, Ehrenreich realized that they were much tougher than she thought and trying to make it in America was nearly impossible.
Right now there are people in this country working multiple jobs to keep their heads above water and still not making it. These unstable situations lead to challenges within families. Children aren’t guaranteed the same opportunities as their peers and are challenged to rise above. In some cases, this leads to hopelessness and despair, which leads to an inability to rise out of their plight. Sometimes the poverty can become generational.
More and more organizations are witnessing those who helped them in their kitchens become recipients. Times are more and more desperate for people.
Jesus’ social justice identifies justice for the poor. Many of the people he spoke to were workers who were exploited… farmers, fishermen etc… Many of the farmers in Jesus’ time were arguing with landowners for livable wages and Some historians and theologians speculate that the feeding of the five thousand was a sit down strike. Jesus tells his disciples to “recline” on the grass. Reclining in Jesus’ time was reserved for the wealthy. Jesus was able to accomplish what the Roman government was unable to do and that is feed the poor.
Small businesses face challenges that the giant corporations don’t. Living on shoestring budgets and worries about meeting the payroll, unemployment compensation, medical coverage for employees along with the headaches of producing products that can generate interest and manifest profits. In these tough times, we need to take another look at the Gospels and be reminded how early Christians worked together to make it work for the good of the whole.
Once again, scripture can provide living examples of what is the right thing to do in terms of galvanizing support for the most vulnerable among us – even when the most vulnerable are workers who are working to make a better life for their families and their communities.