By Rev. Jeff Carter
As spiritual stewards of our communities, faith leaders are unique witnesses to the impact of income inequality in New York. In the same breath, we speak to those most and least fortunate, applying lessons of humility and courage to all.
Our task – to shepherd New York’s communities toward strength – has been made far more difficult as the ranks of the working poor have swelled to 3 million, and our state has earned the dubious distinction of having the worst income inequality in the nation.
As the majority of minimum wage earners, women and mothers are bearing the brunt of this low-wage epidemic, brought on by profitable companies pushing down pay as low as it will go.
More than 1 million children in our state have a parent who is a low-wage worker. Families that lack the financial security necessary for parents to be present and involved in their children’s lives are more likely to fall into generational traps. To break the cycle of poverty, we must first act to stanch the bleeding.
Our leaders in Albany must recognize that we fail to uphold our end of the bargain as a society when hard work still results in poverty. And while the top 1 percent see rising incomes and capital gains, the rest of New York – including our economy – is left behind.
One idea out there, a bill called RaiseUpNY, is a smart proposal supported by Buffalo Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes that draws on the wisdom of those who know best – our local communities – to begin addressing this urgent problem.
RaiseUpNY would empower cities, like Buffalo, to enact higher local wages suited to regional living costs. The approach has flourished in localities that have enacted similar legislation – and helped build momentum for critically important statewide increases.
In San Jose, San Francisco and Sante Fe, for example, economies have continued to perform without slowdowns or job losses despite raising the local minimum wage. In San Jose, job growth in the fast-food industry has accelerated since legislation was passed raising the city’s minimum wage, which now stands at $10.15 per hour. Bolstered by city success, efforts to hike the statewide minimum have also flourished, and it will soon be $10 per hour.
To reverse an ignominious trend of wage stagnation and declining working class prospects that lends New York the status of the state with the worst inequality in the nation, our leaders in Albany must embrace the solution at their feet and pass RaiseUpNY immediately.
As faith leaders, the spread of poverty and low-wage work in our communities is quickly amounting to a crisis. Lifting tens of thousands of families out of poverty by raising Buffalo’s minimum wage is more than just an economic imperative. It is a moral one.
The Rev. Jeff Carter is pastor at Ephesus Ministries in Buffalo.