Written by W. Evan Golder
The headlines came two days apart but they went together like bread and butter.
First: "Minimum wage deal proposed."
Then: "Pay gap widens as execs cash in."
The deal proposed in the first news story was that Congress was willing to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.15 an hour in two years instead of three.
The pay gap exposed in the second story was that the minimum wage would be $24.13 an hour instead of $5.15 an hour if U.S. workers enjoyed the same 535 percent pay raise the nation's top corporate chieftains pocketed in the last decade.
This is wrong! This is immoral! This is nothing more than greed let loose.
This "bottom line" mentality puts self ahead of neighbor, avarice ahead of compassion, individual ahead of community and profit ahead of social responsibility.
Even to pretend that the minimum wage is a decent wage is a sham. In no county in this country does a full-time minimum wage worker earn enough to afford a one bedroom apartment.
You do the math. Not counting payroll deductions, at $5.15 an hour for 40 hours a week a minimum wage worker would earn $206 a week. For 52 weeks a year (no paid vacation here) that comes out to $10,712. If you raise the minimum wage to $6.15 an hour, the annual wage is $12,792.
But the official poverty level for a family of three is $13,133 a year. Raising the minimum wage a dollar an hour doesn't even raise a family of three out of poverty. It doesn't even raise a single parent with one child out of poverty. Yet legislators and business leaders think even this raise is too much too soon!
"The central problem of our lives," writes UCC minister and scholar Walter Brueggemann in "Christian Century" (3/24-31/1999), "is that we are torn apart by the conflict between the attraction to the good news of God's abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity—a belief that makes us greedy, mean and unneighborly."
No matter how much we have, it never seems to be enough. The less we think there is, the more we want it for ourselves.
Look at Exodus 16, writes Brueggemann. During the exodus everyone had enough bread. But in Egypt they had learned to believe in scarcity, so in the wilderness they hoarded bread. Then land, then property. "Possessing land, property and wealth makes people covetous, the Bible warns," Brueggemann writes, adding, "We who are now the richest nation are today's main coveters. We never feel that we have enough; we have to have more and more, and this insatiable desire destroys us."
As individuals and as a nation we need to learn to share the wealth, to be generous instead of greedy. If we think we don't have enough, we won't. But if we think we do have enough, we will.
The Rev. W. Evan Golder is editor of the national edition of United Church News.