The following remarks were delivered by the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Copeland at the Minimum Wage Increase – Bill Introduction Press Conference, hosted by Raising Wages NC. To watch the full press conference, click here.
It’s been 12 years since the minimum wage was raised, but it’s been more than 60 years since the minimum wage was a living wage. 1968 actually. According to economists, this was the high mark for the minimum wage, the time when it started losing ground and stopped being a living wage. Do the math. $7.25/hour for a 40-hour work week comes to just over $15,000 a year. No, really, it does. “Oh, minimum wage workers are not supporting a family,” you say. Actually, they are, and most of them are women.
The numbers are out there for anyone who wants to look them up. More pressing for my money is the human dignity question. How much is an hour of labor really worth and what does that say about how much the person is really worth? Can a day’s labor be worth at least enough for a person to live on for that day? Not live extravagantly, just safely and comfortably. Isn’t the one laboring worth at least that much?
My faith tradition professes that our worth is in our faces because our faces look like God’s face. We are created in the Image of God, making each human face invaluable. Hiding opposition to fair wages behind arguments about shrinking bottom lines and increased overhead devalues the face. Why do people need to work for $7.25 an hour when CEO salaries are in the millions and stock earnings are in the billions? If we pay people a fair wage, everyone will still have enough money. The laborer will have enough and the employer will have enough, distributed more fairly between them. We don’t have to raise prices to raise wages—that’s a lie told by those who look at salaries from the top. If we look at salaries from the bottom, the view is very different. From down there we can see all the money going up the chain with the people at the top getting most of it. Are the faces at the top more valuable than the faces at the bottom? Are the faces at the top created more in the image of God than the faces at the bottom? I don’t
Scripture is filled with stories about laborers and wages. In fact, the Bible has a lot more to say about money than it does about sex. Just saying. Without fail, God expects us to pay workers enough to live. Without fail. We can do no other.