Workers Are Worth Their Keep

A Theological Companion to Making Ends Meet After the Great Recession: The 2010 Living Income Standard

Click here to download Workers Are Worth Their Keep

From the Introduction

I can still see her in my mind’s eye.

It was 1969, and I was part of a choir premiering the folk musical “Good News” in Europe. (In Baptist circles, it was the trailblazing work that brought – gasp! – guitars into a lot of churches.) One of our stops was a large gathering in Berne, Switzerland, of Baptist youth from all over the world.

Bag lunches were served every day to all of us at the Youth Congress, several thousand people. The meal included a piece of luncheon meat. (I remember distinctly that it was tongue one day.) There was a hard roll, about the size and consistency of a baseball. A piece of fruit. And a candy bar that tasted like instant coffee flakes dipped in chocolate. We groused a lot about the lunches and tossed a lot of food in the trash.

We were on our tour bus, about to leave the dorm where we had been staying, when a few of us saw her. She looked about sixty years old, and she looked like she could have been my grandmother. She came quietly around the corner of the building, went straight to the big trashcan, and started digging out our thrown-away lunches. She put what she could find in a bag, and she was gone.

Sheltered life that I had led, I had never before seen someone using a trashcan as a food source.

*        *        *

A new study by the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center, entitled Making Ends Meet After the Great Recession: The 2010 Living Income Standard, highlights the challenges facing low-wage workers across the state:

For many in North Carolina, work falls far short of its promise. Almost 35 percent of North Carolinians in 2009 earned low incomes while working, and the number and proportion of such families has risen since 2000.

During the last decade, the number of low-wage work opportunities grew at a greater rate than the number of well-paying jobs with benefits. Then the Great Recession struck, devastating the finances of workers who did not earn enough to build substantial nest eggs of savings and assets. This one-two punch of the prevalence of low-wage work and the Great Recession has contributed to the accelerated growth in the struggles working families face on a day-to-day basis. These daily challenges can quickly become generational struggles as low-wage

jobs are less likely to support children’s healthy development and increasingly can doom children to a lifetime of low earnings and limited economic mobility.

Restoring not only the promise of work but also the opportunity for well-paying jobs with benefits is the central challenge confronting North Carolina as the state maps its course out of the Great Recession.

This companion to Making Ends Meet After the Great Recession is meant to bring the issue of wages into conversation with theological perspectives of economic justice. Workers Are Worth Their Keep is divided into three main sections. The first section highlights passages from the Bible that speak directly about economic justice, fair pay for workers, and the call of God to treat workers with dignity. Here we find that the Bible speaks directly to the question of living wages.

The second section examines the perspectives of several major figures from Christian traditions. While their contexts vary greatly, their voices converge around the calling to pay workers wages that are fair and just. For these theologians, to rob workers of living wages is to sin against God.

The third and final section of this resource quotes from official statements from many of the denominations represented in the NC Council of Churches. Nearly all denominations across the theological spectrum agree that wages are a moral issue and that workers should be treated with dignity and respect. In particular, many statements highlight the need for families to be able to support themselves through their work – a need that is not always met by today’s low-wage industries.

I hope that Workers Are Worth Their Keep will help people of faith to focus on fair wages as an issue of faith, an issue addressed by our scriptures, by our theologians, and by our denominations. May it lead us to get involved and to make a difference.

Rev. George Reed, Executive Director, NC Council of Churches

July 2011

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