The Bare Minimum

The Bare Minimum

October 23, 2012
Written by Daniel Hazard

James 5:4

"Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields..."

Reflection by Lillian Daniel

These days an increasing number of people are trying to pay their bills on minimum wage. That's harder to do today than it was thirty years ago because at $7.25 an hour, the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation. The minimum wage I earned in high school 30 years ago, serving greasy popcorn and flat sodas at the local movie theater, seemed pitifully low to me then, but today it is worth even less.

$7.25 an hour translates to about $15,000 a year for a full time position, usually without insurance or benefits. That full time equivalent figure matters because increasingly these workers are supporting themselves and their households.

Despite the stereotype of the high school kid flipping burgers, minimum wage workers are not primarily teenagers. 76% of those earning around $7.25 are adults 20 or over. In other words, they are not working for prom tickets, book money or even their own tuition. The vast majority of people working for the minimum wage are grownups, many supporting children.

Waiters and waitresses' wages have been frozen at $2.13 per hour for more than 20 years. Despite their tips, these workers – 71 percent female – are three times more likely to be paid below the poverty line than the general workforce and twice as likely to need food stamps. As the age statistics indicate, they are also more likely to be supporting families than earning spending money for themselves.
If the current minimum wage of $7.25 had kept up with inflation over the last 30 years, it would be $10.55. In those same last 30 years, CEO pay has more than kept up with inflation. It has increased more than 725 percent.

Sometimes you just have to stop what you are doing and "behold the wages of the laborers."


Generous God, I pray for a day when both the minimum wage and the highest salaries are enough to live well on and nothing to be ashamed of. Amen.

About the Author
Lillian Daniel is the senior minister of First Congregational Church, Glen Ellyn Illinois and serves on the board of Interfaith Worker Justice.

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