Episcopal networks issue joint statement on need for a living wage

Posted Feb 24, 2014

[Episcopal Network Collaborative press release] The social justice networks of the Episcopal Church were given life in the movement for civil rights, but it has always understood that civil rights without access to economic prosperity was at best a protest movement without a vision in reality. We understood that a free and democratic society included the opportunity to better ones human status through meaningful employment, which would then open the door to a better quality of life and hope for the future. The dream of home ownership, a steady and hopefully growing income, the ability to secure a quality and empowering education for self and ones children and the possibility of passing on to the next generation are all what is necessary for full participation in a democracy such as ours and part of the real dream that Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of more that fifty years ago.

The reality is, however, that in 2014, we are living in an America that is increasingly becoming a nation that is divided into the haves and the have-nots. The trickle-down theory and the “rising tide lifting all boats” has not become a reality for the increasing numbers of working poor in this country. Income inequality in the United States is amongst the highest in the world. President Barack Obama referred to the widening income gap as the “defining challenge of our times”. Pope Francis called on world leaders to address the problems of the poor by “attacking the structural causes of inequality.”  Many statements of the Episcopal Church General Convention have called on our legislators to address issues of poverty, unemployment and the rights of workers.

Nothing points out the income gap in this country more dramatically than the issue of providing a living wage to those who work, but cannot begin to move out of poverty. Being locked in a cycle of poverty increases job stagnation, increasing class division and social disorder. Further, globalization has resulted in an economy where disadvantaged groups engage in a race to the bottom as they compete for declining wages and benefits. Working full-time but not earning enough to move out of poverty, limits the access to those things which can improve life overall, such as health care, housing in safe neighborhoods, the ability to buy fresh and nutritious foods, the opportunity to attend an educational system that will provide the tools and resources to enter higher education and employment training programs, both of which are absolutely necessary in this present society that is no longer driven by manufacturing. The Episcopal Networks Collaborative is particularly concerned about income inequality and the raising of a living wage, because most of those impacted, those stuck in poverty although working, are people of color at least in central city areas. Poverty is directly related to the high dropout rates of youth of color and other marginalized groups, the rise in the percentages of youth impacted by hypertension, obesity and diabetes and the increase in violence and incarceration rates because of a lack of hope and any sense that life might change for the better. Child abuse rises with income inequality according to a recent study published in the journal, “Pediatrics,” March 2014. Increasingly we are witnessing class divisions within communities of color around education and income, which further isolates those who would rely on examples of success and possibilities to motivate and to give hope.   The lack of good-paying jobs with benefits is not just a problem of the inner city.  They impact the rural and urban poor everywhere including whole regions such as the Mississippi Delta, coastal Carolina and Appalachia.  Immigrant workers are often among those who suffer the worst working conditions and lowest wages.

Those at the bottom economically are often the first to be impacted by disasters related to industrial pollution, destruction of the environment and the effects of climate change.

We believe that a practical step to meeting the crisis of income inequality in this country is to enact legislation to require a living wage for full time workers. Lifting adults out of poverty also will move thousands of children out of poverty thus impacting future generations. The plight of part time workers also needs the attention of our legislators.  Part time jobs were once the province of students and others who did not seek full time work.  Now many companies hire heads of households for part time, low wage jobs with no benefits.  This should be a big concern for policy makers and regulators.  We know that the work of those who are now making a minimum wage is very much a part of the ongoingness of our society. It is work that needs to be done and enhances the quality of life of us all. In Sirach 38:34 it is stated, “the work they do holds this world together. When they do their work, it I the same as offering prayer.” We in the Episcopal Networks Collaborative believe and pray that it is just and right that all be given the opportunities of a life that can only begin when people are able to move out of poverty. That is why we join with others across this nation who believe that empowering people through economic equality and seeking  legislation that would guarantee a living wage is the next step in the struggle for justice and freedom.

Annette Buchanan

Dianne Aid

The Rev. Frank Edmands

Union of Black Episcopalians

Episcopal Network for Economic Justice

Episcopal Ecological Network