Concerning a Fair Wage by Joe Micon, LUM executive director
It is our practice at LUM’s homeless shelter to give admission preferences to guests who have jobs. Often, the work schedules of those individuals makes it difficult for them to pick up an entrance pass or check-in during the appointed times – so we bend the rules for them a bit. We think work is a good thing and try not to place unintended barriers in the way of our guest’s employment.
We keep pretty close tabs on who of our guests are employed and who are not. So imagine my surprise to observe recently that more than one-third of LUM’s homeless guests are employed at least part-time. This wasn’t just a one day snapshot. A full one-third of our guests are employed now on any given day of the year. If this is the case at LUM’s shelter, I would suspect other shelters around our state and nation are also serving large percentages of the employed homeless.
This is just the latest extension of what is now all too common and routine at LUM. We have become a ministry that serves primarily those who work – because what they are paid isn’t nearly enough to meet their basic needs.
- LUM provides subsidized after school and summer child care for children of working parents.
- LUM, with our partner St. John’s Episcopal Church, provides food for many, many individuals who work but can’t afford to feed themselves and their families.
- LUM provides emergency financial aid for rent and utility assistance to primarily working clients through our Good Samaritan Fund.
- LUM’s Tax Assistance Program served just under 2,000 workers this year.
- And now, a growing percentage of those in our homeless shelter are there because their jobs don’t pay enough to cover the cost of their own housing.
So here are the questions I wrestle with a lot these days…..
- If the living wage for a single parent and two children in Lafayette (according to a 2014 MIT study) is $22.79, is it fair and just that our minimum wage remains at $7.25?
- Wouldn’t it be more dignified for workers to earn a fair wage for their work and rely less on tax funded public assistance programs like food stamps and rent subsidies (or on the generosity of places like LUM, for that matter)?
- Is it fair for taxpayers to continue to subsidize the profits of employers who aren’t paying their employees enough to get by?
- Wouldn’t our entire economy be stronger, and businesses fair better, if we had a healthy middle class that had greater ability to purchase goods and services?
Now that the numbers of jobs in our community and beyond are on the climb, it seems as if we must begin the more difficult discussions of how to pay our employees a wage that allows them to live, learn and grow to their fullest God-given potential. There seems to be something inherently wrong when even hard work doesn’t give you a quick ticket out of a homeless shelter.
What do you think?
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