For the second weekend in a row, I have spent my time at a hotel outside of Washington, D.C. with over 200 high school students at the RAC’sL’Taken Social Justice Seminar. Over the course of four days, students from congregations around the country had the opportunity to learn in a hands-on setting about public policy issues, including ensuring reproductive rights for women in the military, the challenges of indefinite detention, the ins and outs of the judicial nominations process, and more.
But the first program of the weekend is often the one that sticks in the minds of chaperones and students alike. On Friday evening after we have come together as a community to welcome Shabbat, we embark on a discussion and simulation about the issues of hunger and homelessness in America. The students first hear from a speaker from the National Coalition for the Homeless and then participate in a simulation that allows them to learn the challenges of food insecurity and of finding nutritious food on a tight budget.
There are many root causes of homelessness and hunger, some of which are impossible for Congress to truly fix. However, while Congress is debating and (hopefully) compromising to keep us from sliding down the fiscal slope come January 1st, numerous states are discussing an issue that can be legislated: raising the minimum wage. According to a recent report by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, it is impossible in all 50 states to afford a modest two-bedroom rental working 40 hours a week on minimum wage. In New York State, a minimum wage worker would need to clock in for over 130 hours a week in order to afford modest housing.
In New York, over one million workers would benefit from an increase in the state minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour. New York should follow in the footsteps of Washington, Connecticut and Massachusetts, who have raised their minimum wages to $9.04, $8.25 and $8.00 an hour, respectively.
Back in Washington, in addition to the fiscal cliff debate, New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have co-sponsored The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012 to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.80 over the next three years.
As some New York legislators on both the state and federal level continue to demonstrate their commitment to this vital issue, we must join together to create an effective echo chamber, making our voices heard. Reform Jewish Voice of New York State, the voice of Reform Jewish social justice in Albany, is urging its state legislature to realize this commitment to helping people pull themselves out of poverty. They need to hear from you, so if you live in New York, send an email to your State Senator or Assembly member and everyone should send an email to your Members of Congress.
If I’ve learned anything from watching students learn about these issues and passionately speak with Congressional offices, it’s that each voice is necessary, but that hundreds of voices can make a difference. Join the chorus of voices and fight for a living wage across the country.
Image courtesy of Center for American Progress.