I rarely, if ever, write about the goings-on in Hollywood because, well, it’s Hollywood. But this morning there was a prevalent story in my news-feed. At the Oscars last night, Patricia Arquette, during her acceptance speech for her Oscar, made a statement about equal pay for women. Meryl Streep heartily agreed from the audience. You can see her reaction here. Apparently, Twitter exploded in affirmation. And I would concur that this is an issue we need to address as a nation.
Moreover, according to a variety of sources, Patricia Arquette took very little salary for her role in the movie Boyhood. That most definitely is something to be commended.
But it did strike me as a little ironic. Here, amidst some of the wealthier Americans, was a call to equal pay for equal work. Contradictory because the call issued by Arquette, while laudible, was made to a nation of people who make significantly lower wages than Arquette or Streep.
Let’s be clear before we go any further. Does a gender pay gap exist? Yes. Do we as a nation need to address this problem? Yes. Should women make the same amount as men, for the same work? Most definitely, yes! I say this as a father of a daughter who deserves, whatever her future career, the same pay as her male counterpart. However, while this call to action is necessary, it struck me as a little paradoxical coming from someone who is in the income bracket of Arquette; though not for the reasons one might think. Before we get to that, let’s look at what Arquette and Streep face in their industry.
There are unequivocally fewer roles available for female leads. When a female actor lands one of these roles, they are paid decidedly less. Furthermore, I will be quick to point out that not all actors are making the coin that Arquette is; so this is a particularized situation. All of that said, a call to action is necessary. But the action that is necessary is not limited to the gender pay gap.
What I began to think about after reading several stories of Arquette’s impassioned speech was those who are many times forgotten; forgotten amidst the labor statistics and reports of current economic growth. I thought specifically of those who are paid minimum wage.
Before detractors cry “Socialist,” I most definitely am not advocating for a redistribution of wealth based upon those principles. Nor am I advocating that pay should be divorced from the type of work we do. That being said, the elephant in the room is that we pay enormously higher wages to actors/directors/producers in the movie industry that the average American makes working their job. And it was in a room majoritively filled with such people that this impassioned speech was made. Yes, these persons gathered do a job that I cannot do. Trust me, you don’t want to see me act! However, to paraphrase Jesus – where your treasure is, there your heart will be. So in one sense it is a critique of American culture – we are amusing ourselves to death.
The current economic system does not play fair – whether by gender or race or economic situation. One might argue that hard work and effort will provide success both monetarily and vocationally. But that may not be the case. Socioeconomic background, educational qualifications, and myriad other reasons play into our success. For those of us who want to address economic injustice, such as Arquette passionately pleaded for, we need as a nation to advocate for a living wage. Again, I am not a socialist, nor a Marxist. I am a Christian, and therefore it is my calling to advocate for the least and the lost. Ah, you may say: But didn’t Jesus say that you will always have the poor among you? Yes, yes he did. But he most definitely did not say that we were to do nothing about it. A living wage is necessary and long over do.
If we were to implement a living wage what might that look like?
A living wage, that had kept up with worker productivity, would currently be… wait for it… $21.72/hr., as of 2012 according to a study by Center for Economic and Policy Research. If minimum wage had just kept up with inflation it would currently be $11.00/hr., as of 2014. Moreover, the minimum wage peaked according to some research in 1968. 1968!
Beyond the need, and to tie into Arquette’s call to arms, a living wage benefits women, who make up the majority of minimum wage earners. According to the National Women’s Law Center, “Increasing the minimum wage and tipped minimum wage are key steps toward fair pay for women.” (See here.) So if we want to reduce the pay gap for women, a living wage is necessary.
The annual salary of a full-time worker receiving minimum wage is: $15,080. That is using the current minimum wage of $7.25/hr. Even if we were to increase the minimum wage to $11.00/hr, the annual salary of a full-time worker would be: $22,880. Is that enough for the average family of four? No. But it’s a start.
There are many people more intelligent and well versed in economics than myself. But even to this economic amateur, a living wage seems a no-brainer. While I applaud Patricia Arquette’s desire to see the wage gap eliminated, her impassioned plea does not go far enough. For all of us, especially as a person of faith, I must seek more. I must advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves – a living wage for those who need it. That’s the kind of salary speech I want to hear. That’s the kind of America I want to live in.
You can read more about raising the minimum wage at: http://www.raisetheminimumwage.org/
Or just Google it – living wage vs. minimum wage