Waiting for Midnight... And Daybreak
- Dec 17th, 2011
As midnight approached, shoppers were ready to hit the aisles. Store managers had shelves stocked and extra personnel were ready to handle the crowds.
What ignited this excitement and predictable spike in sales? Big ticket sales items for Christmas? Arrival of the hottest new electronic device? Oh no. These midnight shoppers were in the market for something much more basic: milk, eggs, toilet tissue, and other bare essentials. In fact, this rush of late-night shoppers occurs twelve nights of the year – on the first of each month, when monthly food stamp allotments are debited to recipients’ accounts.
[Watch the MSNBC video "Waiting for Midnight": http://rockcenter.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/11/28/9069519-waiting-for-midnight-hungry-families-on-food-stamps-give-walmart-enormous-spike]
Among other things, food stamps and other government safety net programs in effect subsidize the wages of workers in low wage jobs and stand in place of the benefits package that so many low-wage and part-time employees do not receive. It seems ironic to me that some of the very employers who do not provide a living wage or benefits to their employees end up reaping the financial rewards of the Food Stamp program.
But another way to look at this picture is to see that these benefits not only provide a temporary lifeline to those who need it, but also pump money back into our very sluggish economy. So, from a purely economic standpoint, isn’t it self-evident that we would be cutting off our nose to spite our face if we were to cut these safety net programs when they are creating private sector spending and profits during this recession? A compassionate government safety net makes economic sense to me.
Even more importantly, a compassionate government safety net is also a matter of faith, ethics, morality and biblical imperative. My faith values tell me that every person hungers for and is entitled to personal dignity. Dignity includes being able to put nutritious food on the table and pay for other minimum essentials. Dignity includes the opportunity to work and to be paid a living wage to cover basic necessities.
Some say that the United States a Christian nation. By that do they mean only that there are more Christians than non-Christians in this country? Don’t they mean something else, something more? I think they mean that our Christian faith values are—or at least are supposed to be--part of our culture, society and policies. What would or should a “Christian nation” look like in practice?
For me, it all comes down to love. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”(John 13: 35) In the plain English of a popular hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” They will know we are Christians by the way we treat widows, children, orphans; the disabled, the stranger, the hungry, the homeless; the prisoner and the ex-con; and the unemployed, the under-employed, and the low-wage worker. (See, e., Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2; Isaiah 58:6-7; Matthew 22: 34-40; Matthew 7:12; Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 6:30-31).
What is more defining of a Christian nation: how it imprints “In God We Trust” on its money and government buildings, or how it uses its money and power? “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) “You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24b)
Low-wage workers (and the under-employed and unemployed) are not just waiting for midnight. They are waiting for daybreak, for a new dawn where they “will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune.” (Isaiah 65: 3a).
The MSNBC story that prompted this blog is here: "Waiting for midnight, hungry families on food stamps give Walmart 'enormous spike'"
To learn more about living wage campaigns, see:
The Universal Living Wage, http://www.universallivingwage.org/;
"Ministry with the Poor:Fighting for a Living Wage for All God's Children," Feb. 18, 2011 issue of The Vision, the newspaper of the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church: http://nyac.com/console/files/oUMConnection_Issues_FMXDQI/Vision_2011_02_18_Z4RXMFXV.pdf.
For commentary by a faith leader and community activist who connects living wage issues to her opposition to siting a Walmart in East New York, see Onelilove Alston's blog, "Walmart in East NY: Desperation Exploitation," which originally appeared on the Feb. 19, 2011 Poverty Initiative blog on Union in Dialogue, http://unionindialogue.org/povertyinitiative/2011/02/19/walmart-in-east-ny-desperation-exploitation (re-posted with permission).
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Read and comment on a range of personal reflections and perspectives about poverty and Ministry with the Poor. Our goal is to attract diverse voices and points of view from United Methodists and friends, including people and communities living in conditions of poverty, other experts, religious leaders, community organizers, advocates, policy makers, volunteers, and all engaged in Ministry with the Poor.
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