Oregon is on the way to becoming the highest minimum wage state in the nation. From this year’s $9.25 per hour rate the bill (SB 1532 A) passed in the Legislature last week will result in minimum wage rates ranging from $12.50 in non-urban counties to $14.75 in the Portland area by the year 2022, with the first increases starting this July.
Many public statements were made for and against the bill. Employers, workers and legislators all weighed in, but one legislator’s argument justifying her support for raising the minimum wage stood out.
As a majority of the House Business and Labor Committee prepared to vote for the bill on February 15, one committee member quoted from the Bible to make her case:*
For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ Deuteronomy 15:11
This legislator is welcome to use that scripture to justify opening wide her own hand to the needy, but it doesn’t command her to coerce others to open wide their hands. Voluntarily opening your own hand to the needy is charitable; requiring employers to involuntarily open their hands to the needy is not. Forced charity is not charity; it is force. It may be legal for legislators or voters to impose such a requirement, but it is not a form of charity or compassion; it essentially perverts compassion into coercion.
* Representative Margaret Doherty’s full three-minute committee statement justifying her vote can be viewed here. The last minute contains her quote from the Bible. The entire hearing (three hours and 45 minutes) can be watched here.
Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.