Since the implementation of the first federal minimum wage in 1938, there have been several successful attempts to increase the wage on both the federal and state level to account for cost of living increases. The last increase at the federal level took place in 2007, when the minimum wage was increased $2.10 over a period of two years. In late July of this year, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012, which seeks to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.80 an hour by 2014.
This legislation has over 100 Congressional co-sponsors, including New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. The co-sponsorship by members of the New York delegation is highlighting the stalled attempts in the New York State legislature to raise the state minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. There are currently 1 million New Yorkers earning a living at minimum wage jobs, making $7.25 an hour, who would greatly benefit from a wage increase.
A recent New York Times article profiled the minimum wage workers living in New York City who spoke out at legislative hearings on the issue: a woman who waits until 5pm to purchase end-of-the-day bread, a health care worker who cannot afford her co-pay at the doctor, a food service employee surviving on leftovers from the restaurant he is employed by, and a woman who works a 70-hour workweek at 2 minimum wage jobs.
In New York City, a worker who earns the minimum wage and works full time brings home less than $15,000 a year. Living on that amount is not only impossible in New York City, but also in many other cities and towns. A common argument expressed by opponents of a higher minimum wage is that an increase in the minimum wage would primarily benefit high school students working at McDonald’s. But, in reality, an increase in the minimum wage at the state and local level would serve as an economic stimulus for working families.
Our tradition recognizes that while we cannot absolve society of all poverty, we must work to alleviate it as best we can. We have an obligation not only to feed the hungry, but to spur citizens towards self-sufficiency, which is achievable through ensuring livable wages for workers. Reform Jewish Voice of New York State met with members of the New York State legislature at our annual Advocacy Day in May and encouraged them to address state assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s attempts to raise New York’s minimum wage.
This fall, we are continuing our advocacy on this issue during the month of Cheshvan, which falls between October 18 and November 14, by asking congregations across New York State to dedicate an evening program, a Shabbat service, or a religious school class period to learning about what our tradition teaches about fair and living wages.
Even if you do not live in New York, it is imperative that Congress hear from citizens about the necessity of a fair minimum wage, this job cannot only be left up to the states. Urge Congress to act on the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012 and find out more about how you can bring Advocacy Month to your congregation.