US faith leaders say lift economy by raising minimum wage

By staff writers
January 13, 2009

The leaders of 15 denominations and national faith organizations are among the inaugural signers of an open letter calling for a $10 federal minimum wage by 2010.

Four hundred faith leaders from all 50 states have so far given their endorsement and more are signing every day, say campagners.

Rev Dr Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), signed the letter in support of the ‘$10 in 2010’ campaign saying: "National wage policies are moral documents that express the values of our country. A minimum wage closer to a living wage better reflects our values."

Let Justice Roll, a national faith-community coalition, will hold Living Wage events on the Martin Luther King holiday weekend and later in January as part of the $10 in 2010 campaign and in support of state and local living wage campaigns.

"Well before the recession, growing numbers of employed men and women sought help at food banks and homeless shelters because they could not live on poverty wages," said Rev Steve Copley, chair of Let Justice Roll. When the federal minimum wage increased to $6.55 last July, it still left workers with less buying power than they had in 1997, at the start of the longest period without a raise since the minimum wage was enacted in 1938.

"Our economy would not be in such a mess if wages had not fallen so far behind the cost of living and income inequality had not grown to levels last seen on the eve of the Great Depression," said Holly Sklar, senior policy adviser for Let Justice Roll and co-author of A Just Minimum Wage: Good for Workers, Business and Our Future.

"As we are seeing so painfully, an economy fuelled by rising debt rather than rising wages is a house of cards."

It would take around $10 to match the buying power of the 1968 minimum wage. "It is immoral that the minimum wage is worth less now than in 1968, the year Dr. Martin Luther King was killed while fighting for living wages for sanitation workers," said Rev. Copley. "It's also bad for the economy. Minimum wage dollars go right back to local business through spending on food, healthcare and other necessities."

Most of the 27 states with minimum wages higher than the federal level have unemployment rates that are lower than the federal level.

Let Justice Roll is also currently organizing to raise state and local minimum wages in Georgia, Tennessee, New Jersey and Kansas. Recently, Let Justice Roll helped workers in Kansas City more than double their pay from the lowest-in-the-US state minimum of $2.65 an hour.

The organisation is looking ahead to new campaigns in the South, where so many workers suffer the hardship of poverty wages.
Most of the ten occupations projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to have the largest employment growth during 2006-2016, such as retail salespersons, fast food workers, home health aides and janitors, have disproportionate numbers of minimum wage workers.

"A job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it," said Holly Sklar. "The minimum wage sets the wage floor, and we cannot build a strong economy on downwardly mobile wages and rising poverty, inequality and insecurity. As President Roosevelt understood, we have to raise the floor to lift the economy."

Inaugural "$10 in 2010" faith leader signatories include:

Rev. Steve Copley, Chair of the Board, Let Justice Roll
Dr. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in US & Canada
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church
Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer, President, worldwide United Methodist Council of Bishops
Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Rev. William G. Sinkford, President, Unitarian Universalist Association
Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary, National Council of Churches USA
Mary Ellen McNish, General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee
Sister Simone Campbell, Exec. Director, NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Rev. Alexander Sharp, Exec. Director, Protestants for the Common Good
Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Charlie Clements, President and CEO, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
James Winkler, General Secretary, United Methodist General Board of Church & Society
Rev. Kim Bobo, Exec. Director, Interfaith Worker Justice

Keywords:minimum wage
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