“Surviving” Wages Are Not Enough

Living wages leave out the “living” part.  Working full time, living paycheck to paycheck is not living; it’s not thriving; it’s barely surviving.  

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus shared the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  The rich man lived luxuriously, feasting every day.  A poor man Lazarus survived by sitting at the rich man’s gate hoping to feed on crumbs from the rich man’s table.  Lazarus was living but so poorly that dogs licked his wounds.  

Many today can relate to Lazarus, hoping to earn their daily bread at a job that barely pays in crumbs.  Still, some would say that the rich man paid Lazarus a living wage because it paid all his basic needs.  This is not true!  A full-time job that only pays for basic needs is barely surviving.  Let’s call it what it is:  a surviving wage.  

Consider Carrie, a single mom who escaped her abusive husband with her two daughters.  With no family, she took a job as a Night Audit/Desk clerk at an assisted living facility.  Working approximately 82 hours a week (yes the equivalent of two full-time jobs), she takes home $647.00 every two weeks and her rent is $750.00 a month.  Her job does not provide paid time off but because she works, she does not qualify for assistance.  Is this really living?  No like Lazarus, she is just surviving.  

Lazarus’ story has a lesson for us.  Both he and the rich man died.  Lazarus was carried to heaven while the rich man was sent to torment.  Seeing Lazarus, the rich man called out for relief.  But, a great chasm separated the rich and poor men.  When the rich man asked to warn his 5 brothers about their own lifestyles, the reply was “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.”  The parable ends stating that even coming back from the dead would be enough to sway these rich men.  

Today, modern prophets warn about the great chasm between the rich and poor.  Some are theologians seeking justice.  Some are economists arguing to stabilize the market.  Some are members of the very group that Lazarus would have eaten crumbs off their table:

Self-proclaimed plutocrat Nick Hanauer warns:  “…if wealth, power, and income continue to concentrate at the very tippy top, our society will change from a capitalist democracy to a neo-feudalist rentier society like 18th-century France. That was France before the revolution and the mobs with the pitchforks.”

As a religious leader,  I do not hope for pitchforks or violent revolutions.  Instead, I seek to bridge the chasm and restore relationships between the rich and poor.  I embrace organizations like Fight for 15 or StandUpKC that seek economic justice in the form of just wages rather than so-called living wages.  

May we all hear the prophets’ call.