Read Malachi 3:1-5
"Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against...those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts." – Malachi 3:5
Reflection: What are the sins that God is coming to judge? Do you consider paying low wages a sin worthy of God’s harsh judgment? A single mother of two working full time for the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour makes $15,080 a year. By US government standards, she is in poverty. What would you say to a person of faith who is opposed to raising the minimum wage despite the hardships low-wage workers face?
The Bible is clear: “The laborer deserves to be paid.” (1 Timothy 5:18 NRSV) Yet, workers around the world are suffering. Workers are chained to their machines in China. Children are lured into slavery by the cocoa plantations in West Africa. Workers pay off debts through labor for generations in India. And things are not much better in the United States, where it seems we on a race to the bottom.
Since the Great Recession, 75% of the jobs that have been created are low wage service jobs—not the middle wage jobs that were lost. Low-wage workers are especially concentrated in the food service and retails sectors. Income inequality—the gap between the rich and poor—is at its highest rate since 1927. Executive pay and bonuses have continued to increase while the wages of most Americans has stagnated or declined. In fact, current CEO pay is 774 times a minimum wage worker. To put that in perspective, it would take a typical McDonald’s front line employee 777 years to make what McDonald’s CEO, Don Thompson, made in 2013. And the future of work is not bright for most people. Human labor is being replaced with robotics at an alarming rate. Through the extensive use of robots in its distribution system, online giant, Amazon, effectively eliminated 540,000 jobs. What will happen to all the displaced workers?
McDonald’s, the largest fast food chain, had profits of $4.76 billion in 2014. Yet those on the front lines of their stores make just over minimum wage--$8.25 in Illinois and less in many other states. We often picture McDonald’s employees to be high school students, yet the average age of McDonald’s employees is 28 and 78% of the employees (mostly women) are the main wage earners in their families. Additionally, because of low wages, 52 percent of employees are enrolled in one or more assistance programs—like food stamps and Medicaid—costing taxpayers about $7 billion a year! Studies show that a person in Chicago must earn $20.86 an hour to support a family’s basic living expenses.
We do not believe that an economic system that is built upon substandard wages and mistreatment of workers mirrors God’s kingdom values of human dignity, neighbor love, and shared abundance.
By The Rev. Bruce Ray, Kimball Avenue Church
Prayer: God, we pray for the courage to move forward in this struggle for fair wages and better working conditions. We pray for a world that mirrors your kingdom and for the day when all workers are treated with dignity and respect.