Enough to Thrive

United Methodist Women calls for a living wage, for kin-dom in which God’s children thrive, not just survive.

Enough to Thrive
Members joined local community activists as they marched demanding racial and economic justice during the 2014 Assembly in Louisville, Ky.l

Women may not know the exact figures, but they know the fact of income inequality. They know it in their lack of buying power, in their experience of no raises despite increased productivity, in their need to work two, sometimes three jobs to provide for their families. This reality encompasses not only low-wage workers but also professionals such as professors or nurses who are increasingly seeing jobs become more precarious, with fewer benefits and lower wages.

For people in the top 1 percent of income earners, income inequality pays an often unacknowledged dividend: power—through access not just to a secure and privileged lifestyle but also to policymaking and policymakers. That open route allows them to manipulate the system to their advantage, which further exacerbates the inequality. The rich get richer. The rest, not. The combined wealth of six members of the Walton family, majority shareholders of Walmart, for example, is greater than 42 percent of the U.S. population. Six people own more than 49 million families.

Minimum wage

The U.S. federal minimum wage became law in 1938. This base pay when first begun increased buying power for those at the bottom of the income scale. But its buying power peaked in 1968 at $1.60, which amounts to $11.60 in 2018 dollars according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Today the federal minimum wage is only $7.25. The Pew Research Center estimates that the federal minimum wage has lost about 9.6 percent of its purchasing power to inflation since it was raised to $7.25 back in 2009. The federal minimum wage for tipped employees is only $2.13.

Too often it is imagined that the minimum wage serves only teens and part-time workers desiring supplemental pay (women “helping out”), or that it represents entry level jobs from which employees move up the pay scale. The reality is that nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are adult women, even though women make up less than half of all workers according to the National Women’s Law Center. Mothers make up about 21 percent of the low-wage workforce, and nearly half of the low-wage workforce are women of color. Unskilled workers stay in those jobs and stay unskilled. Many employers set part-time, erratic schedules that keep minimum wage earners from being able to commit to schooling or to seek other, better jobs. They can’t move up.

Living wage

The federal minimum wage has not kept up with cost of living. Even in states and cities offering a minimum wage higher than the federal bottom, the National Low Income Housing Coalition has found that renting a two-bedroom apartment is out of reach for minimum wage workers in all U.S. states. In only 12 counties is a one-bedroom home affordable (defined as paying less than 30 percent of household income). Even those who work full time and take no sick days (for which they would not be paid) can earn only enough to keep them under the government-acknowledged poverty level.

A living wage, on the other hand, offers a wage high enough to provide a normal standard of living. Some states and cities have legislated a raised minimum wage of $15 to be implemented in a few years, but even $15 today still isn’t considered a living wage in many places. In New York City, the living wage for one adult is a $16.14 hourly wage according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology living wage calculator, which factors in food, housing, transportation, child care, medical expenses and taxes. In Harding County, South Dakota, it’s $9.59, and Henry County, Alabama, is $10.62, for other examples.

Several states and cities have raised the minimum wage for their area. Others are considering the change, but a federal push is practically nonexistent currently, and some state legislatures have overridden local efforts for change.

In next month’s issue of response, executive for public action Carol Barton will talk about why and how United Methodist Women is advocating for a living wage.

Narrative of the powerful

Objections come from large corporations, especially the powerful National Restaurant Association. Corporations have seen record profits while workers have seen stagnant or decreased wages. Instead of working to improve industry standards and supporting the health and well-being of employees, small businesses and communities, the National Restaurant Association has opposed menu labeling, restrictions on marketing junk food to children, living wages and pay equity, sick days and expansion of health care. And they spend money on political campaign contributions and lawsuits to ensure the low standards remain. Learn more about this from United Methodist Women partner Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

Corporations also recently a large tax cut. Some have passed along minor wage increases or bonuses to employees (although some such as Walmart, AT&T and Comcast are simultaneously cutting jobs). This opportunity to improve standards of living and purchasing power for employees is instead, like the record profits, going to shareholders and executives.

The narrative of the powerful, based on a scarcity mindset, sells fear and deceit. But as women of faith, we believe in a God of abundance and won’t fall for this myth.

The counter narrative

From Scripture comes the call to justice for the poor: Deuteronomy 15:7–11, Amos, Luke 4:18–19, for starters. From John Wesley we have the call for mercy and justice—for being Good Samaritans and for fixing that dangerous road. We are to care for those in crisis, and we are to change unjust systems.

Our baptismal covenant calls us to “reject the evil powers of this world.” Our Social Principles clearly identify tackling income inequality as part of our work (The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 2016, ¶163). The counter narrative is based not just our call but most assuredly on God’s abundance.

What can we do?

Women, look up! Lift up your head! Glimpse God’s vision of “kin-dom” (enough for all) rather than “kingdom,” with a king and ruling class. See your wider community. You are and know the faces of your sisters working in child care, serving in restaurants, cleaning houses, running checkout stations. You are not alone. You have community also through the church and United Methodist Women, both locally and nationally. Change comes by banding together to make change happen through the power of the many.

Speak up! Connect with others to work on changing culture. Rather than accepting “this is just the way things are,” take time to learn about the wealth and gender gap, about realities of the restaurant industries, about the benefits of living wage and how it can benefit all. Read What About Our Money?, attend Mission u, read books on the Reading Program list. Work also for change in policies. Engage in politics, activism and communication with lawmakers. Again, be sure to read next month’s issue of response, and visit United Methodist Women Economic Inequality

Model through the church. Ask hard questions: Does our church pay a living wage to its child care workers and staff? Do the church’s contractors for cleaning pay a living wage? Educate and remind the congregation to prioritize justice, to live with a sense of God’s abundance and not to give in to a scarcity mentality. United Methodist Women’s Be Just. Be Green 13 principals for sustainability can help you with these measures.

Do your homework. Do you frequent restaurants that pay a living wage? Do you recommend to friends the ones you know do? Do you know the wages paid to your child care workers or house cleaners? Find out. Speak up. Make decisions that are just.

Do not be discouraged. With your sisters in Christ, go to work! Encourage one another not to “grow weary in doing what is right” (Galatians 6:9a). And remember always, God is also at work!

Crys Zinkiewicz worked for more than 30 years at The United Methodist Publishing House and served for four years on the editorial board of United Methodist Women. She is author of the leader’s guide to United Methodist Women mission study What About Our Money?

Posted or updated: 5/1/2018 12:00:00 AM