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Minimum-Wage Workers Deserve a Raise

July 24, 2013

By Marianne Comfort, Institute Justice Team

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the last increase in the federal minimum wage. This is nothing to celebrate.

The current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour totals an annual salary of about $15,080 – and that’s if you’re lucky enough to be working fulltime. That is below the poverty level even for a family with just one child.

People of faith are now saying loud and clear that it’s time for a raise for America’s low-wage workers.

Mercy Sister Libby Fernandez, executive director of Loaves and Fishes, a multi-service ministry for people who are poor and homeless in Sacramento, CA, is well aware of the insufficiency of the minimum wage. Her organization starts a dishwasher with very little education at $9 per hour, $1.75 above the mandated federal wage. “It’s not much,” she says, “but it’s enough for a struggling person NOT to be homeless.”

Mercy Associate Linda Howell Perrin of Bethany House Services in Cincinnati hears about the challenges of trying to live on the minimum wage from the homeless and disadvantaged women and children who seek assistance.

Linda shares the story of Ann, a woman with three children who came to Bethany House after a divorce. She found a possible apartment and a job at a fast food restaurant at the starting wage of $7.25 per hour, with no guaranteed hours and no benefits. The first week she earned $213.16 and, after deductions, brought home $136.23. The apartment rented for $585 per month but she was turned away because she couldn’t prove that she could afford it.

The Sisters of Mercy are joining with other advocates for those who are poor and vulnerable in supporting the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which would phase in a raise in the federal hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2015. The legislation also includes a built-in raise each year to keep up with inflation.

Some states and even local communities, recognizing the inadequacy of the federal minimum wage, have set their own, higher wage floors or are considering such measures. Massachusetts lawmakers, for instance, are debating a minimum wage hike from $8 to $11 per hour.

My own city of Takoma Park, MD, like some other municipalities, has set a living wage ordinance to make sure that all employees and employees of contractors hired by the city earn enough to get by. Since we live in an area with a very high cost of living, the living wage this year is $13.95 per hour.

Please join the Sisters of Mercy in calling for a raise in the minimum wage by contacting your legislators today. And let’s pray that the minimum wage won’t grow old enough to celebrate more than a one-year anniversary ever again.

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