Column: $13 an hour inadequate minimum wage
Faith Action for Community Equity has decided that the achievement of a living wage for all of Hawaii’s workers is a top priority.
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Faith Action for Community Equity has decided that the achievement of a living wage for all of Hawaii’s workers is a top priority. We strongly support a minimum wage of $17 an hour, which would come much closer to the wage a single worker needs to sustain a minimal standard of living. The most recent Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism analysis has found that a worker with no dependents needs to earn $17.63 to make ends meet. When a worker has dependent children, an amount far in excess of $17 an hour is needed.
We are appreciative of those, including the governor and the state House leadership, who are proposing a $13 minimum wage and increased tax benefits for those who are at the bottom of the economic ladder. However, it is our strongly held position that $13 an hour by the year 2024 is simply not enough.
Those who belong to the member units making up Faith Action are guided by faith traditions, all of which declare that that we must uphold the dignity and worth of all workers who by their labor contribute to the common good of our society. Anything less than a living wage does insurmountable harm to the well-being of those who work to support themselves and their families. The prophet Isaiah in the 6th century BCE envisioned a world in which God’s people “shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity.” The prophet’s vision is our vision.
We have heard an objection to raising the minimum wage to $17, which goes like this: raising a wage to this amount will be a disincentive to those presently working for low wages because they will no longer enjoy government programs benefiting low-income workers if they receive a higher wage. This objection does not make any sense to us.
It stereotypes the working poor as people who want to be dependent on government handouts. Given the opportunity to earn a living wage, we believe that low-income workers would take great pride and joy in being self-sufficient. Should self-sufficiency not be our goal?
We have also taken note of the desire of the House leadership to fast-track the legislation proposing the $13 minimum wage. It is our belief that legislators need to hear the stories and testimonies of those who are now working for a minimum wage in their places of employment. The House of Representatives and the Senate need to make room for the testimony of those who are most affected by this legislation. Fast-tracking a legislative package eliminates opportunities for the stories of low-income workers to be heard.
We urge all legislators to act justly on behalf of the 47% of Hawaii’s people who are in need of economic justice, as identified in the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) Report of last year. Not to do so will leave Hawaii’s poorest workers struggling for life’s basic necessities. And that is something none of us should condone.
The Rev. Neal MacPherson is with United Church of Christ; the Rev. Samuel Domingo is with United Methodist Church.