Making Economic Justice a reality
The Bridging the Economic Divide (BED) Initiative started in 2000 as a donor collaborative to address the growing chasm between the poor and the wealthy in this country. Since then, the initiative has:
- Granted over $3 million through the Bridging the Economic Divide Fund to over 50 economic justice organizations and coalitions across the country.
- Launched the BED Media Project to bolster the media skills of grassroots leaders involved in economic justice campaigns. Today, the term “living wage” is a standard term in the economic debate as a result of the BED Media Project. To support this effort, BED partnered with the SPIN Project—nonprofit communications specialists.
Bridging the Economic Divide (BED) Initiative is focused on a fundamental American value: everyone deserves fair pay for a fair day’s work, and working families should not live in poverty. Workers' living standards have declined in all ways – lower pay, longer work hours, less health care, no pensions, and more insecurity. The state of the federal minimum wage demonstrates this struggle. After a decade of standstill, the minimum wage was increased by more than $2 per hour in 2009 to $7.25, but it is still not enough to keep Americans out of poverty. In fact, Americans who rely on minimum wage to feed themselves and their family take home only half – nearly $10,000 less than – the $22,050 benchmark that the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services uses to define families living in poverty.
Several other stark political, social, and economic factors have played a role: growth of the temporary work force; decline of unions; globalization and off shoring; and “Wal-Mart-ization” of the retail industry. State and local budget crises and federal devolution policies are also detrimental to both immigrant and U.S.-born workers. States are recording the highest fiscal shortfalls since World War II, due to federal tax cuts that benefit corporations and the wealthy, restrictions on state sales taxes, and shifting of costs from Medicare to Medicaid. The hardest hit states are the poorest ones, many of which are located in the South, such as Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
From Living Wage to Economic Justice
Since the first living wage ordinance passed in 1994, living wage organizing has emerged as a key wage-based strategy that empowers low-wage workers and builds momentum for a broader economic justice agenda. Diverse coalitions of community, labor, and faith-based organizations in communities all over the U.S. have won passage of 130 living wage ordinances, requiring private firms contracting with city or county governments to meet certain standards regarding wages and benefits.
As a direct outgrowth of the living wage successes, 18 states have also passed legislation or initiatives to raise statewide minimum wages higher than the federal level. Many of these living wage campaigns have been supported by the BED Fund.
At the core this is about raising wages for working people. But perhaps just as importantly it is also about civic participation and expanding democracy. The Bridging the Economic Divide Initiative supports not only living wage campaigns, but also the broader economic justice movement. Given the complexity of the current economic crisis, the Initiative works to support creative, innovative organizing strategies, many of which come from low-wage workers in the informal economy where laborers cannot benefit from a living wage, as well as from "no-wage" workers (i.e. workfare workers) who are attempting to make the difficult transition from welfare to work.
Combined, these efforts highlight the importance of building relationships across strategies and constituencies and forming the foundation for an economic justice movement with a stronger, more multi-faceted agenda-a movement with the power to fundamentally impact the bridging of the economic divide.
Video: What Is a Living Wage?
How These Laws Help Families, Businesses, and the Economy
February 11, 2011- A video from CAP Action's American Worker Project explores what a living wage is and how it helps families, businesses, and the economy.