A year ago the justice and mercy committee of the church I pastor encouraged a minimum wage challenge in the congregation. How many of us would be willing to live on the amount that someone lives on if they are making the current minimum wage? The committee had consulted experts to choose a dollar figure that would best represent reality in this experiment, and the decision was that our family of 5 should live on $200 a week if we want to get a sense of what the working poor making minimum wage are living on.
The experiment was sobering. The dreadful feeling of always being behind, always putting things off, always having a knot in our stomachs about finances, was hard for one week — I had new empathy for people who experience this day after day, always.
Empathy, coupled with common sense about the very liquid dollars of poor people, should have led the governor to be interested in a minimum wage increase that could have raised family morale and maybe jump-started the kinds of businesses that poorer members of society frequent — local, small businesses. I was disappointed when he vetoed it.
However, Gov. Christie’s veto could prove to be a blessing in disguise, as New Jerseyans have rallied to introduce an increase to minimum wage in a way that will, in the long run, be far more effective for the working poor. Rather than the once-a-decade-nod in the direction of poor people, with a “too little too late” increase, there is now a state constitutional amendment on the table. In our district, the 18th, I’m thankful for the work that Assembly members Barnes and Diegnan have done, to work to bring the minimum wage increase to the ballot as a constitutional amendment.
Please, New Jersey, on Nov. 5 come out to the polls to vote for a constitutional amendment that will lead to an immediately increase from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour, and, more importantly, will tie the future of minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index. That means that excuses such as “our economy can’t handle it right now,” that stopped the governor from signing the bill last year, can’t be used again. Instead, changes will be based on real increases needed by the working poor.
In my tradition a central teaching is that the last are first in the kingdom of peace and love that God is bringing about. Minimum wage is a far cry from the idealism of the last becoming first — those wage earners will still remain last at the end of the day on Nov. 5 — but at least it will be a step in the right direction.
I’m excited for the change, and I hope you are too. Come out on Tuesday the 5th and help make it happen.
Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale