Will Rogers once said that whenever he feared he was running out of comic material, he just looked at what Congress did the day before. Well, the same applies to me when I am seeking topics for this column. Why, just the other day (March 7, 2005), the U.S. Senate (49 Republicans over 46 Democrats) voted against raising the federal minimum wage from its current $5.15 per hour. For those of you who haven’t done the math, try this: eight hours a day of minimum wage work, at five days a week, at 50 weeks a year, yields $10,300 per year. This, of course, puts that 50-week-a-year, full-time worker below the poverty level. So what we have, in effect, is government mandated poverty. I wonder whether this is part of the mandate George W. Bush believes he was awarded. Why is it that the Republican Party unanimously and consistently votes against paying our citizens a living wage? I don’t get it. It seems to me to be either complete ignorance of the cost of living a reasonable existence or complete disregard in the face of that knowledge. Either way, voting against minimum wage increases year after year – actually for the past seven years – is tantamount to imposing poverty upon large numbers of working Americans. As Senator Ted Kennedy commented, “The height of hypocrisy will be this afternoon (March 7), when those individuals in this Senate say no to a minimum wage increase of $7.25 an hour when this institution voted themselves a $28,500 pay increase over the last five years.” Ending welfare “as we know it” is a nice slogan, but not when it is replaced by mandated poverty. It is tempting to be cynical and interpret this as deliberate meanness based upon an underlying feeling that “since they can’t contribute to my re-election and since they don’t vote, who cares what happens to them?” Well, some of us do care, and we believe that while it is nice to get all morally riled up about the rights of the unborn, it ought to be a source of equal moral passion to care about providing minimal and decent provisions for the already born – many of whom are innocent children living in god-awful conditions of abject poverty right here in America. Please excuse my repeating one statistic from a previous article, but it is too germane to pass over. There are 3,066 counties in America. If one worked at the minimum wage today, do you know in how many counties that person could afford to pay rent and utilities on a one-bedroom apartment? I have asked this question of several friends recently, and their guesses have varied from 10 percent to 50 percent. The correct answer is four. No, not four percent, but a total of four counties! So how can we call ourselves compassionate and just when our federally imposed wages condemn many citizens to poverty? To make matters even worse, poverty is on the rise in America. In 2003 the official poverty rate rose for the third year to 12.5 percent of the population (Time, Oct. 16, 2004, p.50). Of course, many of these people are children.The Bible is fairly explicit about the responsibility all men and women should bear for the poor. While the current administration is hell-bent on faith-based initiatives, perhaps it might re-read the supposed source of that faith and treat the poor in this country the way Jesus commanded. Can anyone in his right mind imagine Jesus advocating a vote against a minimum wage increase? Against providing a living wage for each citizen?
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