By Maria Chappelle-Nadal
Dear Friends and Neighbors,In 2005 the U.S. Census Bureau released a list of the top ten counties in the nation with the highest poverty rate. St. Louis, Missouri, was among this list with 21.6% of its residents falling below the established poverty line. 21.6% of our neighbors will struggle to pay this month's rent, provide food for their family, and collect money for necessary transportation. However, only those below the established poverty line were noted in this survey. Many of our neighbors work full-time, earning a wage at or slightly above the minimum wage, and still cannot afford necessities such as adequate health care coverage.Every year the federal government establishes a poverty line based on the minimum amount of money needed to provide food, shelter, clothing, health care and transportation. The current minimum wage has been $5.15 per hour since 1997, and it has been demonstrated that, in 2005, the minimum wage bought less than it had in 49 of the previous 50 years. In short, minimum wage is not enough to provide the necessities. Many of us know this, but it's easy to figure out when one sees that many of the nearly 45 million Americans without health insurance are hardworking, full-time employees.There are solutions to this problem, one of which is put into use by federal and local governments: a living wage. A living wage ordinance requires employers to pay wages that are above federal or state minimum wage levels. This applies to a specific set of workers who are typically employed by a business under contract with the government. It allows the wage for a full-time worker to support a family at a level above the federal poverty line. One other solution is to simply raise the minimum wage. Many states either have raised the minimum wage or are considering doing so. Currently, eighteen states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages higher than the federal level. By 2008, the minimum wage in several states will be as much as $7.65 per hour. There are also efforts underway in Nevada, Montana, Arizona, and Ohio to put the issue before voters - something we can do here in Missouri to secure a decent wage for many of our neighbors.Many of our neighbors currently earn the federal minimum wage and, because the minimum wage is not sufficient to provide certain necessities, the government has traditionally provided necessary safety nets, such as Medicaid. However, massive cuts to benefits such as Medicaid have led to the disqualification of many people from the safety net - namely, many full-time, hard-working people making the minimum wage or slightly above the minimum.The minimum wage is not adequate. In the wealthiest nation on earth, we should not deprive a decent living to hard-working people.We can all do our part to ensure that a living wage is enacted. After all, one year ago it was the efforts of only 65 students, professors, and campus employees at Washington University in St. Louis that led to better wages for many campus employees. After only 19 days of sit-ins, protest, and hard work, we were victorious.The students and faculty were not alone in this battle. I took this as an opportunity to step outside the walls of the State Capitol and actively participate in their efforts. Joining the Student Worker Alliance, I shared in their passion and desire for justice by fasting with protestors for 32 hours. It was not easy to accomplish our goals - we slept in tents and on floors; we fasted, and we endured threats and legal action. But we were organized, passionate, and persistent - and we were successful. In a democracy, great and just things can happen when good people organize and work hard.We must not allow this issue to go unnoticed in Missouri - I am doing what I can. Through legislation we can assure decent living standards for all hardworking Missourians. This year I co-sponsored House Bill 1433 regarding the minimum wage. This bill requires that every employee in Missouri be paid at least a living wage. The legislation further states that beginning in 2008 the minimum wage amounts will be adjusted annually based on rates of inflation, becoming effective on March 1st of each year.Please read this letter with concern. Given that this state no longer provides a Medicaid safety net to many Missourians, allowing the federal minimum wage to remain at its current level will have more serious effects on hard-working Missourians. I appreciate your support on this issue and of HB1433. I urge you to talk to your family and friends about this issue. Talk to your neighbors. Through individual and collective action we can strive to improve the lives of low-wage earners. I will continue to push this issue and ask that you do the same.Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter as I voice my concern towards this piece of legislation.Please feel free to contact me regarding this issue or any other questions or concerns you may have. For more information concerning the living wage I have provided the following websites: http://www.epinet.org/, http://www.os.dhhs.gov/I look forward to conversing with you in the future.