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The Right Thing to Do

By Dianne Witte

Reports indicate some progressive Democrats have introduced bills to bring the minimum wage floor in line with inflation, and President Obama recently came out in favor of a $10 minimum wage, with a peg to inflation.

A minimum wage hike would boost the economy. Why has Wall Street seen an end to the recession and main street has not? History shows raising the minimum wage puts more money in the pockets of working families. Low-wage workers are more likely than any other group to spend any extra earnings, usually because they don’t have a choice — they have bills to pay and mouths to feed. The additional household spending benefits businesses in our communities, translating into job growth.

The antiquated official poverty threshold, established in the 60’s, is nowhere near what families need to make ends meet at a basic level in today’s economy. Then, the poverty line was equal to about half of median income. Currently, the poverty level is $22,283 for a family of four.  If it had kept pace with mainstream living standards from 1968, it would be around $34,000 for a family of four. These are kids living in poverty. Is that right? Is it just? Are we the land of opportunity when 21.8 percent of our children under age 18 are living in poverty?

I’m writing, not only to point out the injustice, but to ask for your support in visioning the minimum wage at $10 and to tie increases to inflation so that workers don’t have to wait years for their next raise. Follow up on the vision by connecting to this link for an easy way to Tell Congress to pass President Obama’s proposed increase to the minimum wage – http://campaigns.daily kos.com/p/dia/action/public/index.sjs?action_KEY=680

As I was preparing this article, the quote from Jesus came to mind, “the poor will always be with us.” It is a common argument for those opposing support of the poor and raising the minimum wage. We’ve heard this quote and the kneejerk response is Jesus is telling us that we will never ‘solve’ the ‘problem of poverty’, so we shouldn’t get too caught up in trying to give everything away for the sake of the poor. Not so. Bear with me. Even if you shy away from biblical quotes, you need to have the ammunition to put those naysayers to rest. Turns out we find the quote in three gospels; John 12.1-8, Mark 14:7 and Matthew 26:11. They must have found it important. As the story goes, Jesus was rebuking Judas for taking Mary to task for “wasting an expensive perfume on Jesus” (‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’), Jesus responds by saying: Leave her alone… You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.

Dan, a blogger at http://poserorprophet.wordpress.com helped me with this. He writes, “when Jesus says, ‘you always have the poor with you’, he is actually quoting from Deut 15.11 which says the following:

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be… Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so… For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore, I command you saying, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’

This puts an entirely different spin on Jesus words that ‘you will always have the poor with you’. Our popular reading of these words is used to justify hard-hearted and tight-fisted behavior towards the poor, but Deut 15 would suggest that Jesus means precisely the opposite. According to Deut 15, we are called to “give openly and generously to the poor.”

How does this understanding of these words fit with the passage in the New Testament? Easy. It fits because Jesus himself was poor. Jesus was a vagrant (cf. Mt 8.20), dependent upon the charity of others (in the passage at hand, Jesus is living off of the charity of Lazarus and staying at his home) or the abundance of God (cf. Mt 17.24-27). Thus, anointing Jesus for burial with an expensive perfume is a perfect illustration of what Deut 15 requires, because Jesus is a poor man on the way to his death (not surprisingly, at the hands of the wealthy and powerful).” Interesting.

There is more on the blog, but my point here is, we are called to take care of the poor.  One way is to adopt a higher minimum wage, and tie changes to inflation. Again, I ask you to envision it and click the link to encourage Congress to take action. It is the right thing to do.

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