LAKE MACBRIDE— If there is a right to a standard of living in the United States, one wouldn’t know it. In vague cultural terms rests an idea of fairness, that each of us will have an opportunity to pursue our dreams as individuals. For so many, threats against our personal security, lack of economic means, and inadequate access to food, shelter, clothing, medical care and social services prevent the pursuit of anything but survival. For some, that has to be enough.
Government helps, but is constrained by what is politically achievable. During this year’s state of the union address, President Obama called for an increase in the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour. He said, “we know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong… We should be able to get (an increase to $9 per hour) done.”
It hasn’t happened yet, and in any case, what a slap in the face. While raising the minimum wage would provide some help to people who are working poor, not enough help to reach a standard of living one expects in a nation like ours. Change the hourly amount to a so-called living wage, or a family wage, and it would not be much better. These things are intellectual constructs that have little to do with the way people live, and in any case there is more to life than wages in a system rigged to benefit the wealthiest among us.
According to Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
In our country, government imperfectly picks up part of the responsibility for a minimum standard of living, and there are those who say government provides too much. That leaves provision of a standard of living up to each of us and to those we hold dear. As we consider standard of living as a human right we first have a duty to ourselves. It is to provide for ourselves so we can provide for others.
If you are reading this post, consider that you have a standard of living enabling you to give something to others. Give of yourself, to someone who needs it, be they family, friend, neighbor or stranger. We would do this not for ourselves, but to lift us all up in community. A place where standard of living would be measured by what we do together.