Many of us view Labor Day as the symbolic ending of summer, the time for one more gathering with family and friends before school starts and perhaps a parade. But Labor Day also invites us into a time of spiritual reflection about the nature of work and the meaning of our collective labors.
I have adopted a personal spiritual practice of not working on Labor Day and intentionally not causing others to work on my behalf that day. I do not buy things or eat out. And I spend a part of the day reflecting on the fruits of my work and the work of countless others that make my life possible, sometimes at great personal sacrifice.
We’ve been told we’re in the middle of an economic recovery. But the truth is that while the stock market is closing at unprecedented highs, workers who make minimum wage are not recovering — they’re barely putting food on the table. Millions of low-wage workers in our country work hard day in and day out and still can’t afford life’s basic necessities. They are the restaurant servers feeding us, the people caring for our elderly or sick loved ones and the workers keeping our buildings clean.They are our brothers, mothers, friends and neighbors — and they are suffering silently, choosing between buying food, getting to work and paying the rent.
This is an outrage that our moral values insist be remedied. And there is a simple common-sense solution: we must raise the federal minimum wage to a living wage.
How can we expect hardworking people to support themselves and their families on (the national rate) $7.25 an hour? That’s just $15,080 a year for a full-time worker, which is $3,000 below the poverty line for a family of three. While minimum wage has stagnated and left workers further and further behind, income inequality is now at an all-time high. The CEOs of the 500 largest U.S. companies make an average salary of $10.5 million.
It is time to ask everyone share in corporate success, not just a handful of executives. As people of faith, let us uphold the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Raising the minimum wage is vital in ensuring that dignity.
Let us create a world in which employers treat their workers as human beings rather than as just another cost of doing business. Let’s put purchasing power back into the hands of workers, who will spend those dollars in their local communities. Let our nation create an economy that is strong because workers have enough to live on and create demand for business. Better wages mean a real recovery: sustainable jobs, thriving families, and flourishing economies.
May your Labor Day reflections be fruitful and full of resolve to create a moral and just economy.
Page is the Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church minister.