April 4, 2011
Every year, on the anniversary of my father’s death, people pay tribute to his life and legacy—to the ideals and principles he worked so hard to achieve, not simply for the people of his time but ultimately for the many generations that would come after him.
But exactly what he was doing the day he was killed is often forgotten. On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting for the creation of living wage jobs. In his view, it was both a moral necessity and a civil right that every working American should earn enough to live a decent life and not worry about basic survival. More than forty years later, we continue to fall woefully short of his vision. Far too many working people in our communities and neighborhoods across this great country still earn poverty wages instead of living wages. This is a collective failure, and we must address it together as one nation.
New York City offers a national roadmap for continuing my father’s unfinished work of economic justice. Tonight elected officials, religious leaders, labor leaders, and local community members are gathering in Brooklyn and Bronx churches for mass meetings to build the next phase of the largest citywide living wage movement in the country. In recent months, the Living Wage NYC Coalition has quickly organized and mobilized thousands of residents to push for passage of the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act. A majority of City Council members back the legislation. Now I urge the rest to embrace it.
People see something very wrong happening: Corporations getting richer from tax subsidies offered in the name of economic development yet making people poorer with low-wage jobs. This extreme income disparity is the result of misguided public policy, and that’s why a movement has come together around getting better policy implemented: the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act would ensure that tax dollars create living wage jobs.
We need the living wage movement to succeed and spread to other parts of the country. Countless stories of the working poor today are about people making impossible choices: food or rent, clothing or electricity. When we pause over those stories, and understand their painful significance, we grasp something fundamental about a country as wealthy as ours: no working person should have to settle for surviving over living. It’s that simple.
Martin Luther King III
President and CEO, The King Center
Board Member, Drum Major Institute for Public Policy