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A Living Wage is Right and Fair for New York City
The Positive Community
Reverend Dr. Jesse T. Williams

October 22, 2010
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As a pastor in Harlem, I am regularly in contact with parishioners and members of this community who are suffering serious economic hardship because of inadequate poverty-level wages. I hear their stories, pray with them, serve them and try to find the financial and material resources that they need in order to make ends meet. Our church family does all that we can to help those who are in need because we see it as a calling and a mission that God has set before us. You see, these people are notjust statistics or numbers on a report to me. They are real people with families, children, bills and all of the other challenges of living life in this city.

As I listen to their stories of trying to make their income stretch in seemingly impossible ways, it often occurs to me that the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is just not enough for people to live on in this city. That equates to just over $15,000 per year. We all know how expensive it is to live in this great city. And how can we expect people to survive on a poverty-level minimum wage when they are trying to maintain a home, feed a family, pay for health and dental care, and provide clothing for their children?

For this and many other reasons, I am voicing my support for a Living Wage in New York City and urging our City Council and elected leaders to pass the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act. This legislation would guarantee that workers in large development projects that receive taxpayer-funded subsidies will be paid at least the New York Living Wage of $10 an hour plus benefits or $11.50 an hour without benefits. This Living Wage would also be indexed to inflation so that it will keep pace with the current cost of living. If developers are going to benefit from the subsidies funded by our tax dollars, then they should pay a wage that is above the poverty level to the workers who will be employed in the resulting businesses. This is only fair, and it will help the people of our city earn a living with dignity and less economic hardship.

Living Wage legislation has been passed in other major cities in the USA, and has had positive results. When wages are above the poverty level, the overall economic climate of the city will be improved, and the quality of life for families, citizens and taxpayers is noticeably enhanced in a positive way. There are some who contend that the marketplace should be allowed to set wage levels, and that there is no need for Living Wage Legislation. However, we must always remember that the marketplace is driven by capitalism, not fairness; and that it is motivated by greed, not love. Therefore, the marketplace will always seek to pay people the least amount of wages possible with the intention of preserving profit at all costs, even at the expense of the quality of life for people and families.

As a pastor, I have a calling and mandate to stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed, marginalized and often have no voice in this culture. Quality of life, dignity and fairness mean something to me because these people are notjust statistics on a report; they are real people to me with real families. Won't you stand with us? Support the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act today.

Go to www.livingwagenyc.org for more information.