Faith and civic leaders call on new US Congress to raise minimum wage

By staff writers
10 Jan 2007

Let Justice Roll, a nonpartisan coalition of ninety faith and community organizations in the USA, has sent a 'living wage' letter to members of the newly constituted Congress - signed by more than 1,000 Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders from across the country.

Anticipating a House debate on minimum wage today (10 January 2007), faith leaders urged congressional support for The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 (HR 2), which would increase the federal minimum wage to 7.25 US dollars from the 5.15 US dollars level set in 1997.

"As people of faith, we believe there is no better way to urgently address the poverty that afflicts so many low-wage working people and their families than by raising the minimum wage," said Rev Dr Paul Sherry, National Coordinator of Let Justice Roll and co-author of ‘A Just Minimum Wage: Good for Workers, Business and Our Future.’

Dr Sherry added: "A job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it. That conviction is at the very heart of the faith we proclaim."

The Most Rev Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, said: "We seek a just community for all people. We are a decade late in even beginning to raise the minimum wage toward a living wage. We call on Congress to remember the least among us, and raise the minimum wage without any further delay."

In December 2006, the US broke the record for the longest period in its history - more than nine years - without a minimum wage raise, while Congress's ninth pay raise since 1997 is scheduled to take effect in February 2007.

Today, say campaigners, a full-time worker earning the federal minimum wage of 5.15 US dollars an hour makes an unconscionable 10,712 US dollars annually. Although worker productivity and corporate profits are both way up, the buying power of today's minimum wage is lower than it was in 1950.

The faith leaders' letter states: "The strong victory on all the minimum wage ballot initiatives is evidence that there is strong and widespread support from Americans for a prompt, clean minimum wage increase at the federal level."

"Millions of 'values voters' care about fair wages for the people who do some of the hardest jobs in our society," said Rev Dr Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches and former six-term congressman from Pennsylvania. "Now it's up to their representatives to listen and pass a clean bill on to the Senate."

Two Let Justice Roll member groups - Jewish Funds for Justice and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism - are have also released a complementary letter signed by over 400 rabbis and rabbinical students in support of the Fair Minimum Wage Act.

Let Justice Roll is also spearheading a business leaders' campaign, aimed at dispelling the myth that a higher minimum wage harms business and showing how a higher wage floor benefits business, workers and our economy.

Campaigners are citing in their support a quotation from the late Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday is celebrated on 15 January: "There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American [worker] whether he is a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid, or day labourer."

Additional information about Let Justice Roll can be found at www.letjusticeroll.org.

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