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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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How much is enough?

There's a difference between a minimum wage and a living wage

The French philosopher Voltaire said, "Work keeps three great evils at bay: boredom, vice and need." This philosophy has made its way into the recent reform of our public welfare system, urging people to move from dependency to employment.

But if we expect people to work, should that job provide a living wage — enough income to lift a person, or an entire family, out of poverty? In 1989, 75 percent of Americans thought the federal minimum wage should be set at a level that would give a family of four an income above the poverty level. Even with the current minimum wage of $5.15 per hour, a full-time, year-round worker would fall $4,888 or 31 percent short of that goal.

The federal minimum wage was adopted in 1938 and has been raised periodically since then. But when it has been increased, there has been little discussion in Congress or the public about whether the minimum wage should be a living wage.


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