by Rabbi Josh Brown of Temple Israel and Rev. Scott Jones of First Central Congregational Church
(Note: Names in this piece have been changed for the purposes of privacy to the individuals mentioned)
Jane works full-time at her minimum wage job while raising her daughter. Last June, she started saving pennies from each of her paychecks to have enough money to buy her daughter school supplies in advance of her starting her next year of school.
Bill and Sarah alternate work shifts because they cannot afford childcare: Bill works only in the morning, while Sarah works in the evening. The couple can only see each other for a few hours each day, putting a considerable amount of strain on their relationship.
All across our state, families like these are facing tough questions in order to make ends meet. Do I sacrifice my relationship with my spouse to put dinner for my family on the table? Do I buy the medicine the doctor prescribed or pay for my kid’s school supplies?
We write as clergy from two different faith traditions, both called by our religions to ensure that hardworking Americans like Jane, Bill, and Sarah have the ability to provide for their needs and those of their families. The Hebrew Scriptures teach us: “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer … but you must pay him his wages on the same day, for he is needy and urgently depends on it.” The ancient rabbis go even further, stating, “one who withholds an employee’s wages is as though he deprived him of his life.” The New Testament stresses the importance of action: “Love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
This is why we urge our fellow Nebraskans to take action this Election Day and vote “Yes” on Initiative 425 to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9/hour.
Nebraska’s minimum wage has been frozen at $7.25/hour for the past five years. As a result, this wage is worth much less than it was previously. Already the minimum wage earnings have lost about 2% of their value due to inflation. The Half in Ten Project reports that 13.2% of Nebraskans have an income level below the official poverty line, and 17.3% of Nebraskan children live in families with income levels below the official poverty line. How can we continue to allow full-time workers in our state not to make enough money to provide the basics for their families?
The minimum wage increase would have a major impact throughout the state. According to the National Employment Law Project, almost one in every six Nebraskan workers – or roughly 143,000 Nebraskans – would get a raise if the minimum wage becomes $9.00/hour.
Increasing the minimum wage would also benefit Nebraska’s economy. A job should lift workers out of poverty, not hold them back or keep them there. Passing Initiative 425 would increase economic security for our state’s most vulnerable, including the 65,000 Nebraskan children who have a parent who would earn more money if Initiative 425 passes this November. Raising the minimum wage is one of the most effective tools for lifting families above the poverty line.
When you go to cast your vote on Nov. 4, think of Jane, of Bill and of Sarah. Think of those who have to choose between buying a gallon of gas to get to work and buying a gallon of milk to feed their families.
Nebraska can do better. Vote “Yes” on Initiative 425.