Real Independence

Pam Shearman |

If I’m right, then 15 = 4. How so? $15 per hour, like the Fourth of July, represents independence.

The 4 in my equation is for July 4, Independence Day. On July 4, 1776, our forefathers declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

This pursuit of happiness is related to the founding father’s ideas about owning property. What our founding fathers wanted, in part, was freedom from an unjust economy. In their day, the inheritance laws of most countries ensured that all property went to the eldest son. As the population grew, a small elite held most of the property while more and more people had to share fewer and fewer resources. On July 4, our forefathers declared that we all have the right to pursue earning and holding property according to just economic principles.

Thomas Paine wrote in Agrarian Justice in 1797, “If we examine the case minutely it will be found that the accumulation of personal property is, in many instances, the effect of paying too little for the labor that produced it; the consequence of which is that the working hand perishes in old age, and the employer abounds in affluence.

Today, the gap between the rich and the poor is greater than at any time in the last century. This is not the vision of the founding fathers.

That’s where the $15 part of the equation comes in. A person working a full time job at minimum wage earns much less than the poverty guidelines for a family of three. At a $15 per hour minimum wage, a family of three would have about $22,000 a year after taxes, lifting them above the poverty limit.

$15 is independence.

$15 is greater independence for workers and families who now depend on Medicaid, CHIP, SNAP, food pantries, and homeless shelters to live. $15 is freedom to dream of a better life.

There is a proposed rule to increase the minimum wage for all workers on new federal contracts to $10.10 per hour by Jan. 1, 2015. While $10.10 is not enough for a living wage and it does not apply to all workers, it’s a start. It’s a start for workers who want a living wage. It’s a start for workers who want independence.

So as you celebrate Independence Day, I invite you to take a stand for someone else’s independence before July 16. Send a message that you support the proposed rule to increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers


Pam is a seminarian joining Interfaith Worker Justice this summer for clinical pastoral education, she will be reflecting each week on her experiences.