Jubilee McGill & Joan Javier-Duval: A raise in the wage long overdue

Editor's note: This commentary is by Jubilee McGill, an active leader in Rights & Democracy and a member of the Vermont Raise the Wage Coalition, and the Rev. Joan Javier-Duval, minister of the Unitarian Church of Montpelier and president of the board of Vermont Interfaith Action, a member of the Vermont Raise the Wage Coalition.

As people who work in affordable housing and lead church ministries, we have seen firsthand how low wages trap people in cycles of poverty. 

They are forced to make impossible choices that too many people, including our governor, seem to take for granted: 

Do I pay my heating bill, or buy groceries for my family? 

Do I pay to fix my car so I can go to work and don’t lose my job, or do I buy my life-saving medication? 

Do I leave my abusive partner and face homelessness for myself and my children because I can no longer afford rent on one minimum wage income?

And what happens if that decision doesn’t pan out? 

What happens if I choose to fix my car but wind up getting sick and end up getting fired anyway? 

What happens if I choose to feed my family and my utilities are shut off? 

What happens if I am evicted because I cannot afford to pay my rent?

What happens is the decisions become more and more difficult, they become more and more costly, and each time you try to rebuild yourself and your life, the barriers you must climb get more and more insurmountable until you begin to lose hope.

These are not choices that Vermonters should have to make. No Vermonter should have to work more than one full-time job to make ends meet. 

Faith communities, along with other concerned community members, do their best to provide aid and support to neighbors who are making these hard choices with financial assistance, warm meals, and even a place to lay their head for the night. This faithful service, however, is not the solution. We know that wide-scale change is needed to improve the lives of Vermonters.

That’s why we are among thousands of folks throughout Vermont calling on the state Legislature to finish the work of the 2019 session and get Vermont on a path to $15 an hour by 2024.

That’s why we support the work of the Vermont Raise the Wage Coalition — a coalition of more than 30 groups representing tens of thousands of Vermonters from all walks of life. 

On the opening day of the legislative session we stood with folks struggling to get by, advocates, and legislators who believe that our state’s working standards should reflect the needs of working Vermonters and demonstrate that Vermont upholds a core set of principles.

Those principles are:

  • A sustainable economy is an equitable economy.
  • All workers should earn a livable wage.
  • No worker should be exempt from earning the minimum wage.
  • The minimum wage is a racial and gender justice issue.
  • The state of Vermont should pay all of its workers a livable wage without sacrificing the quality of or access to social services.
  • Working people deserve both a livable wage as well as the paid time off that they need to care for themselves and their loved ones.

We know that more than 80,000 Vermonters are currently making a sub $15 an hour wage and that an increase in the minimum wage will largely be spent in their own communities — to pay rent, buy food, support their families, and get needed medications. 

We also know that if Vermonters continue to raise their voices and our legislative champions follow through on their promises, that the governor will put aside politics and support what a majority of us are demanding, to ensure a meaningful raise in the minimum wage in 2020.

It’s a raise that is long overdue. 

To read the full description of each of the above-listed coalition principles, visit the Raise the Wage Coalition website

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