Hunger, Poverty and the Minimum Wage

Posted on July 22, 2014 by Ryan P. Cumming

Teri Mueller

​Imagine a world where you cannot afford to put food on the table. Imagine a world where hungry children look up at you with pleading eyes as you stare at an empty pantry that you cannot afford to stock. Imagine not being able to provide for the basic nutritional needs of yourself and those you love. Imagine having to make the choice between paying for heat in the dead of winter or purchasing nutritious food.

Many people in America do not need to imagine the above scenarios. For them, the frustration of poverty is a daily reality. Many wage workers all across the country struggle to get by. These workers’ wages are at or slightly above minimum hourly wage of $7.25. Chapter 2 of the 2014 Bread for the World Hunger Report focuses on the problems of poverty and hunger that many hourly workers face. Statistics reveal the harsh reality that 28% of American workers earned poverty-level wages in 2012. While many people believe that teenagers make up the majority of low wage workers, in actuality, 80% of minimum wage earners are at least 20 years old. Poverty does not just affect the jobless, as 10 million families with at least one person employed still fall below the poverty line. Furthermore, a report issued in 2013 by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that  “Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP — and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving SNAP.  The rates are even higher for families with children — more than 60 percent work while receiving SNAP, and almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year.”

Raising the minimum wage is a very controversial topic but one that has increasingly come up in recent months. A 2014 report from Oxfam International supports a minimum wage increase from the present $7.25/hour to $10.10/hour over the next few years. The report states that 25 million workers would be affected, one-third of whom have dependent children. Additionally, over 20% of women would benefit from a minimum wage increase as women tend to work in minimum-wage jobs more often than men. Oxfam emphasizes the growing income inequality in the United States as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Specifically, the report notes that “in 2013 the CEO-to-average-worker pay ratio was 331 to 1; 30 years ago, it was just 40 to 1. Today, the CEO-to-minimum-wage-worker pay ratio is 774 to 1.”

Despite the millions of people that would be positively affected by an increase of the minimum wage, controversy abounds because of possible adverse effects on the overall American economy. The cost-benefit ratio of an increase is rather unclear. Oxfam claims that economic growth and development would occur because better-paid workers would spend more money and contribute more in taxes.  However, some business owners and federations are strongly against a minimum-wage increase because they say it will kill jobs and force employers to cut back employees and raise prices. ACNNMoney article from early May explains the strong opposition of some companies to the proposed $10.10/hour minimum wage.

The contentious nature of minimum wage issues can easily overshadow the people behind the debate. Regardless of political views, we must remember the thousands of people in the US who are struggling to get by and provide adequate nutrition for themselves and their families. There are plenty of resources in our world, and we are called to seek a sufficient, sustainable livelihood for all. We have the responsibility to consider our neighbors and family and to not solely maximize our own interests. Support for a livable wage is necessary as we strive to walk along side wage workers. Because of these convictions, the ELCA supports an increase in the federal minimum wage. Visit the advocacy statement on raising the minimum wage to learn more about the pressing nature of the issue and the views of the church.

Teri Mueller is an intern with ELCA World Hunger.

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