The Value of Work
Janitors and food workers in government buildings received a wage boost to $10.10 by presidential order recently. Income from work is the primary buffer against hunger for the vast majority of U.S. families, yet too many jobs pay poverty-level wages. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)
By Robin Stephenson
Having been a certified nurse's aide (CNA), I can tell you it is backbreaking work—rewarding certainly, but challenging. After graduating high school in a small town, I worked in a nursing home for a short time. At the end of the day, my paycheck didn’t feel like it matched the job.
Many of the other assistants, who were primarily women, were married, and their wages supplemented their husbands' incomes. Although things were beginning to change then, the bulk of blue-collar jobs held by women in my small town in the 1980s rarely offered health insurance or retirement plans.
I made my way to college eventually, and as my job opportunities increased, so did my wages. As a CNA, I had the privilege to care for my elders, and the work felt useful. God’s command to care for the widow really resonates in a nursing home. But today, I’m thankful that I have a job where I don't need to choose between a new tire or adequate food. I’m thankful that I no longer fear a bank balance in double digits with a week before my next paycheck.
So, when I came across an article in The Baxter Bulletin that told the story of 38-year-old Heather Prichard, who is making ends meet as a CNA earning $7.25 an hour, I’m ashamed to say I was relieved my life took a different turn. Not because I think Heather’s work is less valuable than mine; I admire what she does and know how hard she works. In the video segment that accompanies the story, the worry and frustration in Prichard’s voice is clear, and that is what I’m glad I left that work behind. Living month to month and barely getting by means dealing with a constant and nagging worry about what could go wrong. Prichard is frustrated, and with good reason—working a full-time job should allow one to live above the poverty line.
“When you are the kind of parent that is willing to get up every day and work as many hours as you can, and your still just not making it…it’s frustrating,” Prichard says in the video.
A shocking, but not surprising, fact I learned while reading the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, (a fact also is captured in this infographic): if the minimum wage were tied to productivity growth on par with the 1950 wage, Heather Pritchard would be paid over $18.67 for the work she does caring for others. This year, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) are expected to introduce bills in the House and Senate to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 over a period of three years — a step in the right direction. Media reports have painted this as a partisan issue. To me, raising the wage is a moral issue — it’s about valuing humanity.
Some day I may need the assistance of a CNA. When the time comes that I need to be cared for with the dignity God intended, I hope society provides my caregiver with a wage that values his or her dignity.
Robin Stephenson is Bread for the World's national lead for social media and senior organizer, Western hub.
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