Labor Day, Homelessness, and Neighborliness

By John Franklin Hay

LiP 2013As people of faith and faith leaders across the country prepare for Labor Day weekend, many are planning to bring issues important to low wage workers to the attention of their congregations and faith communities through IWJ's Labor in the Pulpits/on the Bimah/in the Minbar program. Each year thousands of congregations talk about important worker justice issues affecting their community through the lens of their faith.

John Franklin Hay serves on the national board of directors for Interfaith Worker Justice and the Executive Director of the Indy-east Asset Development. This week in his blog IndyBikehiker, he reminds us of the important connections between poverty and homelessness to the immorally low minimum wage:

I can't help but connect Labor Day and labor issues to the challenge of poverty and homelessness. For many, poverty and homelessness begins in the workplace. Simply put: many workers can’t afford to live on the wages they receive.

Does the community consider it an injustice when a minimum-wage laborer must work 82 hours a week to afford the average apartment in Indianapolis? Are Hoosier neighbors concerned that many full-time workers cannot afford  market-rate housing? Is it an acceptable ethical practice to build a business plan that counts on hiring most of one’s workforce only part-time to avoid paying benefits and fulfilling obligations required by law for full-time laborers, forcing workers into second and third jobs to try to keep a roof over their heads?

These not-talked-about practices are “Hoosier values” that daily impact many neighbors in Central Indiana. They fly in the face of a national survey that indicates 97% of Americans agree that every worker deserves a livable wage. Not high pay, mind you; not even union-leveraged incomes. But just enough to afford housing and stability. Listening to some local influence groups, however, you’d think the idea of a livable wage was a sinister socialist plot.

A generation ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. observed that "there is nothing except shortsightedness to prevent us from guaranteeing an annual minimum and livable income for every American family."  Shortsightedness--or something a bit more selfish or cynical--apparently continues to determine wage practices and policies today.  Many in the business sector resist paying livable wages and benefits to workers because of the cost and potential loss of jobs.  Yet, few businesses and government policy-makers dare to honestly factor the high economic and human cost of unlivable wages and denial of basic benefits for millions of Americans.

All of us cannot work directly on the issues of poverty and homelessness.  But all of us can advocate for and make available livable wage incomes for laborers wherever possible

Read the rest of the blog post here.

Learn more about IWJ's Labor Day for Worker Justice program, and let's connect our congregations and faith communities to these important issues affecting some of the most vulnerable working families in our communities!

Already planning a special Labor Day program or service? Let us know so we can connect interested folks in your community to the program!