A livable wage and human dignity

President BidenJoe Biden Democrats see Georgia as an opening salvo in the war for the right to vote. MLB could reschedule the all-star game after controversial new voting restrictions from Georgia. Biden dismisses the majority of the members of the DHS Advisory Board MEHRThe bailout recently passed by Congress is the most significant boost to the American economy since the New Deal. It not only offers immediate help for the millions who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, but also deals with the content of poverty, which has become politically almost invisible for at least four decades.

The main component that was left out was a $ 15 minimum wage. However, the White House is about to reintroduce it. The results for those who barely get through will be dramatic. The fate of the poor depends on the vicissitudes of politics and the market. Encoding a minimum wage of $ 15 into federal law will be an important step in structural poverty reduction in America.

Ethics and politics are closely linked, practically inextricably linked. When I think about ethical issues, I turn to first principles and build from there. The ruling first principle is human dignity and respect.

The current federal minimum wage is $ 7.25 per hour. This standard means that American society has built into its economy a large portion of the population that will necessarily be forced to live at or below a subsistence level. We have created a society that has institutionalized poverty and its appropriate misery: $ 7.25 an hour means people can work full time and not earn enough income to meet people’s basic needs – housing, food, clothing , medical care, etc. – for their families and themselves.

For a long time I was skeptical of the often heard claim that the pre-COVID economy was strong. Yes, strong for the moneymakers, for those with ample stock portfolios – but not for the working poor, the paycheck-to-paycheck people struggling to keep their bills and less than $ 400 in savings. That’s 40 percent of the working public. Often these are people who work in inferior jobs, work for contractors and subcontractors, with no security, no benefits, little control over their working hours, no union protection and – to get to my checkpoint – little dignity.

The argument against raising the minimum wage is that it will be unaffordable for small businesses and will force small business owners to let go of workers, increasing the number of unemployed.

Some observations: First of all, we should not speak of a “minimum wage”, but rather a “living wage”. The minimum increase bill will introduce it in several years’ time so the economy can expand in the meantime.

The main problem, however, concerns the basic assumptions. The rejection of a livable wage sees the market as governor of politics. It’s a guess that I reject. Human dignity and need should be our point of reference, which opens the door to other approaches and other political requirements.

The right to a livable wage is a fundamental human right. The United States, led by Eleanor Roosevelt, was instrumental in creating the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration outlines both economic and political rights that the United States, to their shame, is often willing to neglect, not just in practice but in principle.

Article 25 (1) states: “Everyone has the right to, and the right to, a standard of living commensurate with the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, shelter and medical care and the necessary social services Security in the event of unemployment, illness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. “

The standard is the preservation and protection of human dignity.

When a person is forced to eat their next meal from a trash can, live on the street, or is unable to meet basic needs for survival, we can rightly conclude that a person’s dignity is in question becomes. When business, through its normal mechanism, fails to maintain this standard of dignity, it becomes the obligation of the state to take steps to ensure compliance with that standard. That is what a “right” means. The individual has a claim – and it is a tough claim – against the government that that government must recognize and fulfill.

Eighteen years after the Universal Declaration, the United Nations introduced the two human rights treaties for ratification. the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. These documents separate and expand the two types of rights listed in the Universal Declaration. They are the pillars of international human rights law. Some may be surprised to know that while the United States ratified the Covenant on Civil Rights, we did not ratify the Covenant on Economic Rights.

The reason the United States has not ratified the Economic Covenant is because the official position of the United States government is that economic rights are not rights. Europeans accept that it is them. The Canadians do. The United States doesn’t. If you are looking for a reason why our country remains the only industrial nation without universal health care, you will find one here.

Other western states take economic rights seriously, which means that the government has a duty to ensure the economic viability of its citizens. This is an unenviable way in which the United States remains exceptional. Hence we have huge pockets of America that are economically indistinguishable from the developing world.

The starting point is again the preservation of human dignity. With this value as a foundation, we must radically redefine the premises and structure of our economy. We must work for the equitable redistribution of wealth and enforce the role of government to ensure that justice so that all of our residents can lead lives in dignity. A state-guaranteed livable wage would be a decisive step in this direction.

Dr. Joseph Chuman recently retired after 46 years as a minister with the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County, New Jersey. He is also a professor of human rights at Columbia University.

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