Rally for a “living wage” in Philadelphia, May 8.
— by Rabbi George Stern
“Living wages” make it possible for workers to raise families and enter the middle class without relying on public funds, enhancing worker self-esteem and productivity.
Allowing businesses to pay low wages essentially subsidizes corporate profits: Corporate executives make outsized salaries, shareholders get larger dividends, and we all pay taxes to support food stamps and other crucial benefits for the underpaid workers.
Many myths surround low-wage workers, including that they are mainly teenagers seeking a little pocket money, or that they are uneducated and therefore unskilled (i.e., that the low wages are “their fault”). The speakers at a rally for a “living wage” in Pennsylvania, which I attended as the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) representative, demonstrated clearly how inaccurate these myths are.
One after another, adults raising children, some of which trying to find the funds to complete college degrees, testified to the hardships they endure as they bring home between $7.25 and $8.00 an hour, at establishments like the Philadelphia International Airport and fast food restaurants. The workers of the latter are planning strikes in Pennsylvania and across the country to highlight their plight.
More after the jump.
Last year, a study by the Economic Policy Institute found that:
- The average age of affected workers is 35 years old;
- 88 percent of all affected workers are at least 20 years old;
- 35.5 percent are at least 40 years old;
- 56 percent are women;
- 28 percent have children;
- 55 percent work full-time (35 hours per week or more);
- 44 percent have at least some college experience.
On May 4, Mayor Nutter signed an Executive Order raising the wages of city subcontractors to 150% of the federal minimum wage, which would currently mean a minimum of $10.88 an hour. Next Tuesday, May 20, city voters will have a chance to codify that order into law by voting “yes” in support of ballot issue #1.
While we at JSPAN do not consider that to be a living wage, it is a good move in the right direction. We also urge support for the $10.10 minimum “living wage” for Pennsylvania, the subject of the recent rally.