Hard Work Just Isn't Enough: Raise the Wage!
- Created on Thursday, 31 October 2013 20:20
If you work full time, you should be able to secure basic needs.
Doesn’t that sound like a perfectly reasonable idea? Something most everyone would be able to agree on? Having a job should lift people out of poverty - not keep them trapped.
In Minnesota, however, that simple assertion is false.
Minnesota is one of only five states or territories whose statutory minimum wage is below the federal (which is $7.25/hour). And the federal minimum seems wholly inadequate after learning that a couple with two children would have to work 155 hours a week at $7.25 an hour in order to meet basic needs.
The more I learn about this issue, the more I discover just how far-reaching its effects really are in Minnesota. An low minimum wage has a devastating impact on the well being of families and inhibits growth in our economy. Hard work at $7.25/hour just simply isn't enough to keep one's children from going hungry, meet individual housing and healthcare costs, or help workers remain invested in their jobs.
People who do not see the positive outcomes of raising the minimum wage argue that a raise will cause employers to lay off workers – it will harm small businesses and raise consumer prices. The truth is contrary to those objections. Most often, employers can absorb the costs of a higher wage in increased revenue from local spending and reduced turnover rather than laying-off employees. A higher minimum wage can also boost sales at retail and service outlets, because those who receive wage increases are likely to spend their money locally.
And those higher consumer prices? Economists estimate that a wage increase of $1.85 would mean an increase of half a percent or less in living costs for low-income households.
This issue hits home for me in another way. I recently graduated from college and like many of my peers, I am saddled with student loan debt. There are 284,000 college graduates working in minimum wage jobs. If the minimum wage is not even enough to live on, it is definitely not going to be enough to cover living expenses and student loan payments.
When the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938, the federally mandated minimum wage was $0.25/hour. That’s seems laughable now, but in 1968, when the federally mandated minimum wage was $1.60/hour (still a little laughable), it had the same purchasing power as $10.77 would have today. We've lost a lot of ground to inflation.
HF 92 aims to raise the minimum wage in increments, reaching $9.50/hour by 2015, eliminate a tip penalty, index the wage to inflation, and conform Minnesota’s state law to federal standards concerning overtime work and parental leave. This bill is currently sitting in a conference committee at the State Legislature, and it could improve the quality of life for thousands of people throughout Minnesota. Though it does not mandate a livable wage (which would be closer to $15.00/hour) it is a definite step in the right direction.
As members of the faith community, we are called to engage in work that strives to uphold the dignity of every human being. Denying workers a fair minimum wage negates the value of their work and personhood. It's important that we continue to support actions that increase the economic security of those who labor, and that we support legislators and leaders who are working towards a higher state minimum wage. This legislative session, Minnesota has an opportunity to help thousands of families throughout the state. I am hopeful we can make it happen!
-Emily Shimkus, Advocacy Associate
Mythbusters: Payday Lending!
- Created on Tuesday, 29 October 2013 16:22
Time is money, so they say.
This pithy aphorism is often true - but even more so when one's payday loan amounts to an APR of 391%... and growing!
For the last year and a half, JRLC has waded into the weeds, learning as much as we can about payday lending. We've encountered a number of myths, big and small, that will be important to understand when talking about payday lending with our neighbors, congregations, and legislators. Below, we share some important counters to some of the myths about payday loans. Share your own learnings - and questions - in the comments below!
To refresh: Payday loans are small-dollar, high-interest loans that require full payback within a short period of time, usually on the date of the borrower’s next paycheck. The typical payday loan borrower is indebted by payday loans for more than half of the year, taking out an average of nine payday loans per year - at borrowing costs of 400% APR or more.
MYTH: Payday loans are short term.
No. The average borrower takes out an average of 10 loans annually, mostly back-to-back; Customers of several companies average 15 – 17 per year (Legal Services Advocacy Project 2013). Worse, the borrowers take out even more loans in their second year of borrowing, averaging 372 days of indebtedness over a two-year period (CRL 2006, 2009, 2011).
MYTH: Payday loans are much needed credit for a financial emergency (e.g. car repair).
No. 69 percent of payday borrowers use the product for regularly occurring expenses like rent or utilities (Pew 2012). High-priced, short-term debt is inherently unsuitable for borrowers coming up short on regular expenses leaving them with significantly less income to meet the next round of expenses and generating phantom demand for another payday loan (CRL 2009).
MYTH: Payday loans provide a much needed solution to folks facing a financial emergency.
No. The negative outcomes of payday loans use are well-documented, with borrowers more likely to file bankruptcy (Skiba/Tobacman 2008), pay credit card debts and other bills late (Argawal, et al. 2009), delay medical care (Melzer 2009) and lose basic banking account privileges due to repeated overdrafts (Campbell, et al 2008). Additionally, about half of borrowers will ultimately default on their long-term cycle of high-cost debt (Skiba/Tobacman 2008; CRL 2011). Payday loans are not a solution to a financial emergency - instead, they create a new emergency every two weeks leading the borrower deeper into debt and financial distress.
Payday Loans is a photo by Scurzuzu on Flickr
Of Harvest and SNAP
- Created on Thursday, 12 September 2013 20:13
As we enter into this season of harvest, I’m thinking a lot these days about food: about the green-tinted pumpkins as they ripen to a deep orange; about the farmers who tend the land; and about what it might be like, in this season of abundance, to have little access to nutritious food, let alone much food at all.
In particular, I’m worrying about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), the cuts set to take place in November (the month of Thanksgiving, no less!), and the further cuts being proposed and considered by Congress as early as next week.
It’s a funny thing, how we’ve wound up in this place. Actually, it’s downright shameful. The recession increased the number of eligible households: during economic downturns, more people turn to SNAP (and as the economy improves, SNAP participation decreases). More than nearly any other government program, SNAP works exactly as it should, putting food on the tables of those who need it.
Yet, the increase in SNAP use set off arbitrary alarm bells among deficit hawks, who have set to work pigeonholing SNAP recipients and smearing the program’s good reputation as wasteful and inordinate. The accusations they are leveling are hyperbolic and inaccurate.
Here’s what you need to know about SNAP:
Almost one in nine Minnesota households struggled against hunger in 2012. Currently, 276,404 Minnesota households, including parents, children, seniors, people with disabilities and others, use SNAP.
SNAP benefits are modest. On average, SNAP provides about $8 a day for a household and $4 for a person. But that small amount makes a big difference. In 2011 alone, SNAP helped to lift 4.7 million Americans, including 2.1 million children, out of poverty.
Yet, as early as next week, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to consider legislation that would cut SNAP by $40 billion over 10 years. It would eliminate SNAP benefits for at least 41,000 Minnesotans. That’s on top of an already scheduled $5 billion cut to SNAP beginning November 1. The proposed cuts would increase hunger among Minnesotans who still struggle to put food on the table during the slow economic recovery.
At times like this, I turn to my deepest held values and sacred texts to guide my actions. Leviticus 22:23 offers one suggestion: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God."
The Levitican instructions aren’t simply for individual farmers to leave the edges of their fields untouched; rather, it implies that the whole of Israelite society should be organized in such a way as to provide for those in need. As Jews, Muslims, and Christians, we can apply this teaching to how we advocate in the public sector, ensuring that programs like SNAP continue to set the table for families experiencing poverty.
Take Action: Call your Congressperson and urge him or her to to oppose funding cuts to SNAP, and to support basic food assistance for thousands of Minnesotans struggling to make ends meet in tough economic times.
Rev. Alison Killeen
Director of Organizing and Practical Theology
Interfaith Inquiry in India
- Created on Tuesday, 03 September 2013 21:18
I’m writing this blog post from my new desk on my first day as a year-long intern at the JRLC. As I prepare for my senior year at Macalester College, I am still transitioning back to life in the United States after a summer spent studying in Dharamsala, India with Tibetan Buddhist monks. Traveling outside of North America for the first time save a trip to Spain in high school, I became immersed in Tibetan Buddhist culture in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. I was continually struck by the emphasis on compassion for all beings that is interwoven into all facets of life. Many of the monks I met had been forced to flee their homeland in a month-long trek over the Himalayas and had faced immense hardships as refugees. However, their plight only made them more sensitive to others’ struggles, and I have never met anyone more committed to ending human suffering. My newfound friendships with these monks taught me much about the universality of human kindness and commitment to helping others.
I became familiar with the concept of interfaith engagement long before my travels to India. In my religious education classes at my Unitarian Universalist church, I was introduced to the core teachings of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. From an early age, I learned that all the world’s religious traditions taught the values of love, justice, and generosity. When I entered school at Macalester, I immediately became involved with programs at the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, including the Multifaith Council. Through conversations with my peers from different religious backgrounds, I quickly learned that interfaith dialogue is not always as simple as I had believed it to be. There are very real differences among religious teachings, and these differences can lead to serious conflict. However, I have come to understand that the goal of interfaith dialogue is not to come to agreement on all issues. Rather, interfaith settings provide an opportunity for individuals to be honest about their disagreements while maintaining respect for one another as human beings.
I am extremely excited to spend this year working with the JRLC. This internship allows me to combine two of my passions: fighting for basic rights for all, and working with others who come to this social justice work from a wide variety of backgrounds. I already have many tasks planned for this year – I will be working on the JRLC’s campaigns to restrict payday lending and continue funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). I will also help behind-the-scenes with Blank Slate Theater Company’s production on human trafficking, and I will be planning a performance at Macalester’s chapel in November. Look out for me this year – I hope to meet many of you!
A Nomadic Exploration
- Created on Wednesday, 21 August 2013 19:11
Hello JRLC supporters and friends! My name is Emily Shimkus, and I am JRLC’s new Advocacy Associate. I come to JRLC through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, living with six other recent college graduates who have been placed at different non-profit organizations throughout the Twin Cities.
Though I was born in Washington, raised in Idaho, and currently hail from Portland, Oregon, my strongest sense of home lies in Honolulu, Hawaii, where my family moved in 2002. I graduated from high school in 2009 and, tired of the perfect tropical weather conditions and beautiful oceanic scenery there, I decided to go somewhere completely different for my undergraduate studies. I enrolled at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, and despite facing my first winter riddled with below-freezing temperatures, I fell in love with the progressive principles and social activism that I found in the Twin Cities area. While at school, I was also able to continue travelling and experiencing new cultures, including studying history in Cuba and most recently touring in Norway with the St. Olaf Choir. Despite my slightly nomadic experience growing up in several different locations, I have really begun to feel Minnesota becoming my new home.
In each place that I have lived and travelled, I’ve witnessed the strength that comes from community, and I have personally experienced such community through religion. Growing up in the Lutheran faith has rooted me in a tradition that calls its members to love and serve others – to act as God’s people on Earth. This work is not limited to private individuals or institutions. It is part of what it means to share God’s grace, which is a gift that Lutherans believe extends to everyone. I am interested in approaching my spiritual call to act through civic engagement. I majored in political science at St. Olaf, and I have always been interested in government and the ways in which legislation affects individuals. My previous internship experience with a U.S. Representative taught me that every citizen has the ability to connect with and engage their government, but unfortunately people do not always take advantage of this remarkable opportunity to institute affirmative social change.
I am eager to begin my year of service with the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, which strives to unite people of many different faith backgrounds in order to positively impact social justice in the state of Minnesota. Though my plans for the future are currently uncertain (and who knows where I’ll be living next!), I am committed to advocating for positive social change wherever there is inequality, and I am excited to learn all that I can from my time with JRLC. I look forward to working with you all!