Editor’s note: The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25. It was last raised in July 2009.
We are taught in Deuteronomy 15:11 that “there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you, open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.” Though the Torah recognizes that we cannot necessarily eliminate all poverty, we are taught that we must work to alleviate its impact. Making sure the poor are provided for is a responsibility for society as well as for the individual. While we are commanded to give tzedakah and “provide for the poor according to their needs” (Katubot 67b), our tradition also teaches us that it is more important to help a person become self-sufficient than it is to give that person a handout. Maimonides taught that enabling people to support themselves is the highest form of charity. An increase in the minimum wage would allow those in entry-level jobs to be less reliant on federal assistance programs and to become more self-sufficient. An increase in the minimum wage is necessary to restore buying power to minimum wage workers. In addition, it is necessary to link the minimum wage to the annual Consumer Price Index to address the ongoing need to sustain a flexible, realistic minimum wage level, reflective of changing economic conditions. Since passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which established a minimum wage and required Congressional approval for each increase, minimum wage increases have generally failed to keep pace with the rise in consumer prices. Erosion in the real value of the minimum wage has had a serious impact on the standard of living of the working poor. Moreover, erosion in wages of low-wage workers has been a major factor underlying persistent poverty and a steadily widening income gap. The federal minimum wage is currently at $5.15 an hour, and was last increased in 1997.
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