In 1933, the United States Congress established the first national minimum wage. As time passed, inflation lowered the value of the dollar, and the minimum wage was raised. However, minimum wage increases did not always adequately correspond to the increasing cost of living. The actual purchasing value of the United States minimum wage peaked in 1968 when it was $1.60, the equivalent of $9.12 in 2005. For almost the next four decades, the rise in cost of living would outstrip the periodic rises in minimum wage.
In September of 1997, the federal minimum wage was set at $5.15. And it stayed there for the next ten years. As the cost of living rose, the federal minimum wage stopped protecting workers and began hurting them. Instead of serving as a defense against poverty, the $5.15 minimum wage law served as a justification for employers to pay poverty wages.
In May of 2007, Congress voted to raise the federal minimum wage to $7.25 over a period of two years and three months; however, advocates of a living wage continue to push for a minimum wage that was 125% of the poverty level. This is referred to as a "living wage"—a wage that allows full-time workers to adequately afford food, shelter, utilities, clothing, medical care, transportation, recreation, and other living costs. Currently, some advocates estimate $13.25 to be an appropriate living wage.
The interfaith coalition Let Justice Roll (LJR) coordinated the grassroots advocacy campaign which led to the federal minimum wage increase. LJR also led successful campaigns in over a dozen various states which raised their minimum wages in 2006 and 2007.
The Unitarian Universalist Association is a member of LJR's steering committee, and individual Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations have been strongly involved in the Living Wage movement.
Read reports from UU Congregations involved in the Living Wage Campaign:
- UUs Witness for Economic Justice, Equality in Marriage, Peace During 2006 Election Season
- UU Congregations Work to Support a Just Living Wage
For more information contact socialjustice @ uua.org.
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Last updated on Tuesday, August 23, 2011.