Religious Leaders Launch Campaign to Raise Minimum Wage

WASHINGTON - Calling for economic justice and appealing to people of faith to take heed of the Golden Rule, religious leaders from over 50 faith-based organizations launched a campaign in the nation’s capital yesterday to raise the minimum wage.

With the title “Let Justice Roll/Living Wage Campaign,” the faith groups launched the campaign to move beyond the current $5.15 hourly wage for the nation’s lowest paid workers, despite a vote by Congress earlier this year to defeat a bill introduced to raise wages.

“We believe a job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it,” said the Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC).

“We believe that this issue is that important. We want to be part in a small way, and perhaps in a large way of writing the history of our generation by caring for the least of these – our brothers and sisters among us,” he added, stating that a minimum wage should be at least a living wage in the U.S. “And then we’ll tackle this issue around the world.”

Adjusted for inflation, 1968’s minimum wage would be equivalent to about $9 per hour today. Today, a full-time minimum wage workers earns $10,700 per year, nearly $5,000 less than what is considered the poverty line for a family of three.

Calling it a “bedrock moral issue,” the faith communities – representing Christians, Jews, Muslims and others – also introduced a study called “A Just Minimum Wage – Good For Workers, Business and Our Future,” which outlined the current state of wages for workers. The minimum wage workers often defied stereotypical views of workers. Instead of teenagers living with their parents, most workers receiving the minimum wage are adults, including women working in garment sweatshops and chain stores, farm workers, janitors, security guards, child care workers, and health care aides.

Additionally, in contrast to expectations, the study showed that claims that businesses, including small businesses, could not afford a wage increase had been shown to be unfounded.

After the last increase in 1996 to $4.75 and again to $5.15 in 1997, the economy had “unusually high growth, low inflation, low unemployment and declining poverty rates between 1996 and 2000.

“There seems to be no discernible correlation between minimum wage increases and a rise in business failures either in the year the increase occurred or in the following year. If anything, the evidence leans the other way,” wrote Holly Skar, a political analyst, and the Rev. Dr. Paul H. Sherry, coordinator for "Let Justice Roll."

The faith leaders were joined in the Dirksen Senate Office Building by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who authored the recently defeated measure, which had called for wages to increase to $7.25 He noted that since the last minimum wage increase 8 years ago, Congressmen had voted to raise their salaries by $28,000.

Also speaking at the press conference was the Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., Senior Minister at The Riverside Church in New York. He reminded those listening that in his inaugural address in January 2001, President Bush used the parable of the Good Samaritan to express that “Americans in need are not strangers; they are citizens; not problems, but priorities.”

“I pledge our nation to a goal: when we see a wounded stranger on the road to Jericho, we will not pass on the other side,” said the president.

“We cannot claim to love God and despise and reject the vulnerable among us,” said Forbes, adding that “it is hypocrisy to exhaust ourselves in prayer so that we can ignore the needs of the oppressed.”

“Heaven measures our righteousness not nearly as much from our personal piety as from what we do about systems that rob poor workers of basic subsistence necessities while rewarding the rich and powerful with luxuries, which do not satisfy the deeper longing of their hearts,” he added.

The name for the campaign was taken from the Book of Amos 5:24, where the Prophet Amos calls out for repentance before God. "But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" reads the verse.

The organizers were inspired to use the phrase, taking an example from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who used those words in his Letter from Birmingham City Jail after being arrested in one of his protests for civil rights and economic justice.

During the press conference, the “Let Justice Roll/Living Wage Campaign” announced “Living Wage Days,” scheduled for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend on January 14-16, 2006. During those days, the group called on congregations to hold worship services and rallies around the country to educate, mobilize and act to raise the minimum wage.

Below is a list organizations that have signed on to the “Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign."

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African American Ministers Leadership council (People for the American Way)
American Friends Service Committee
Arizona Ecumenical Council
Arkansas interfaith Conference
California Church Impact
Catholic Committee of the South
Center for American Progress
Center for Community Change
Center of Concern
Church in the World Department, Central Southeast Association of the Ohio Conference, UCC
Cleveland ACORN
Dunk the Vote
Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Families United for Racial Economic Equality – FUREE
Interfaith Worker Justice
Joint Religious Legislative Coalition – (Minnesota)
Just Harvest
Just Peace Institute/Living Wage Initiative
Kansas ecumenical Ministries
Kentucky Council of Churches
Lehigh Valley Interfaith Mobilization
Let Justice Roll – Rochester (NY)
Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry in NJ
Minnesota Council of Churches
Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation
National Council of Churches
NETWORK: national Catholic Social Justice Lobby
New Hampshire Council of Churches
New Jersey Council of Churches
New Mexico Conference of Churches
North Carolina Council of Churches
Ohio Council of Churches
Pennsylvania Council of Churches
Philadelphia Unemployment Project
Presbyterian Church, USA
Progressive Christians Uniting
Progressive national Baptist Convention
Protestants for the Common Good
Social Concerns Network at Candler School of theology
South Carolina People’s Agenda
Southern California Ecumenical Council
The Episcopal Church, USA
The Interfaith Alliance
Union for Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
United Church of Christ, Justice & Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy
Voices of the Electors (V.O.T.E.)
Washington Assoc. of Churches
Welfare Engine
West Virginia Council of Churches
WHALE Center
Wisconsin Council of Churches