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Leader Joe Chuman Op-Ed: “A Livable Wage and Human Dignity”

By March 29, 2021 No Comments

In an op-ed at The Hill, Leader Joe Chuman writes about the necessity for a federally-enforced living wage–not merely a minimum wage–and its relationship to a broader ethical framework that places “human dignity and need” at its center:

Ethics and politics are tightly conjoined, virtually inseparable. When pondering ethical issues my mind turns to first principles and builds up from there. The governing first principle is human dignity and respect.

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. This standard means that American society has built into its economy a large fraction of the population who by necessity will be forced to live at or below a subsistence level. We have created a society that has institutionalized poverty and its commensurate misery: $7.25 per hour translates into people working full time and not being able to earn an income sufficient to meet basic human needs — housing, food, clothing, medical care, etc. — for their families and themselves.

I have long been skeptical of the often-heard claim that the pre-COVID economy was strong. Yes, strong for the moneyed, for those with ample stock portfolios — but not for the working poor, the people who live paycheck to paycheck, struggling perpetually to meet their bills and having less than $400 in savings. That’s 40 percent of the working public. Often these are people who work in substandard jobs, laboring for contractors and subcontractors, with no security, no benefits, little control over their work hours, no union protections, and — to get to my controlling point — little dignity.

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But the primary issue relates to basic assumptions. The rejection of a livable wage looks to the market as the governor of policy. It’s a presumption I reject. Human dignity and need should be our reference point, which opens the door to other approaches, other political requirements.

Read Joe’s full op-ed here.

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