The minimum wage battle: What makes a wage just?


Raising the minimum wage is a mitzvah. 

The Rambam says that ensuring others have work that can sustain them is the highest rung on the hierarchy of tzedakah (Mattanot Aniyim, 10:7). In Judaism, tzedakah does not mean charity but justice. We rectify social wrongs and fulfill our obligations through tzedakah. By raising the minimum wage, we are enabling others who work to escape poverty. Tzedakah is all the more important when applied to a system of legislation, as the mission of the Jewish people is to perpetuate our most precious  values of the good and the just into broader society. Our messianic dream is the creation of a society where Torah values are brought into the world to create a more just and holy civilization. 

The disparate gap between rich and poor is one of the most troubling moral issues in America today. Much of the problem has to do with unfair wages that block social mobility. The ” target=”_blank”>Time magazine, July 24, 2009). Even then, the wage only ” target=”_blank”>the earned-income tax credit has been crucial in helping to fill the gap (aiming to benefit low-income families with children and not just all low-wage workers). 

Some argue that raising the cost of labor will hurt workers, because employers will then hire fewer workers. In a few instances this may be true, but overall ” target=”_blank”>the impact on jobs is small.” 

Current ” target=”_blank”>four states with a minimum wage below the federal standard, two (” target=”_blank”>five states with no minimum wage, ” target=”_blank”>One significant study looking at the food industry found that raising the minimum wage did not result in employers trimming their workforce, and dozens of studies have confirmed these conclusions. For example, ” target=”_blank”>in 2006 the Economic Policy Institute estimated that raising the minimum wage from $6.55 to $7.25 would increase consumer spending by $5.5 billion, potentially offering a much-needed boon to the economy. 

A final objection to raising the minimum wage is that those who work in these largely menial jobs are teenagers who are simply trying to earn extra cash, and therefore there is no need for a wage increase. As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich pointed out, this is untrue. Among the 15 million people working in minimum wage jobs today:

” target=”_blank”>As Barbara Ehrenreich, who once described her vain attempt to survive on a wage (above the minimum) in “Nickel and Dimed,” wrote in 2007: “There is no moral justification for a minimum wage lower than a living wage. And given the experience of the … states that have raised their minimum wages, there isn’t even an amoral economic justification.” 

Today, change is needed and the Jewish community has a crucial role to play. We should heed the word of President Barack Obama: “… let’s declare that in