I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” It’s an ideal not possible in capitalistic economies, especially those that shun or are suspicious of every aspect of socialism, like public schools, Head Start, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. ‘The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’”
~ Mark 12:28-31
Neighbor, you ask? Of whom was Jesus speaking?
Surely you recall the parable of the Good Samaritan. So, would not the unemployed father across town be your neighbor? How about the woman taking care of your children so that you can go to work? How about the part time employees of the largest, most successful retail sales corporation in the world?
Among those of us who know Him, can there be any doubt about how God wants us to treat these neighbors? Does He not want us to treat them fairly and impartially — equitably – not withholding or denying them a living wage? Yes. Even so, this is a tall order. It’s the best we could possibly do because, as we all know, on earth there is no equality.
I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” Notwithstanding the great and inspiring words in our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” there is no equality. God has not given to each of us in “equal” measures those things that can be measured in human terms. Some of us are born in the bosom of advantage and luxury. Others are born and reared in poverty and perpetual discouragement. No, there is no equality. Yet God commands us to love one another, whether rich or poor — to treat others, our neighbors, with equity.
What does equity look like? I’ll tell you what I think it looks like. It looks like a society in which children don’t go hungry, where they all go to schools where loving teachers are encouraged with enough time and compensation to be the best teachers they can possibly be – schools where vaccinations and school lunches are freely provided. It looks like a society in which a day’s pay, for those willing to work, is at least sufficient to subsist on, to pay for a day’s worth of shelter, food, clothing and medical care. That’s how it seemed to be when I was growing up, which may have been illusionary I admit. But it surely is not this way nowadays, not for everyone.
No, I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” It’s an ideal not possible in capitalistic economies , especially economies that shun or are suspicious of every aspect of socialism, like public schools, Head Start, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
After retiring from a career in the military, I was hired by a firm providing engineering and programmatic support for military materiel procurement programs. Launched into this follow-on career by my successful involvement in operational test and evaluation for the U.S. Army, it wasn’t long before I was made a branch chief in one of the firm’s many departments. Test and Evaluation was my specialty and I was made a manager because I attracted customers who were willing to pay handsomely for my help. I could have been an ineffective manager, but that had nothing to do with my promotion. It was my expertise in the discipline that got me promoted.
I began to build my team, hiring first a young man who a customer of mine, a former co-worker, wanted to help. He wanted to help not because he was particularly good at anything, but because he was a friend. It soon became evident that he would not be contributing much to the collective effort. But he was now mine to groom and to supervise, which added to my workload. Next, I looked for a new hire that could provide help with human factors engineering. With this hire, I was quite fortunate; the man I hired did excellent work and could write rings around my first hire. My third hire would have been a highly qualified aerodynamics engineer, someone who could serve as my deputy. But, owing to contract constraints and externalities, my branch never quite grew sufficient to justify this third hire. I did interview some candidates though. One was particularly impressive.
She was a graduate of the Navy’s Post Graduate Engineering School and a C-141 pilot. She, a major in the Air Force, had worked in test and evaluation and in the program management office for the new C-17 cargo airplane. Her resume was on the top of my pile of candidates’ resumes when my boss called me in to inquire about my search for a deputy manager. “Who’s your first choice?” he asked.
When I told him, he rolled his eyes then said, “Yeah, I noticed her when she came through for the interview with you. Nice Stems?”
“Sir? Nice stems?” I asked.
“Legs,” he said. “She has nice legs.”
“Yes, she does. But what has that got to do with anything?”
“That has everything to do with whether we can offer her the position.”
“Why is that?” I asked naively.
“For one thing, this is a business for men. Most of your prospective customers would have no confidence in her ability to do the job, even if she could leap higher than all her male competition. Next, were we to hire her and pour time and effort getting her up to speed in this male dominated culture of ours, within two or three years, she’d be engaged and or pregnant. Her new husband, likely another service member still on active duty, would be reassigned to Timbuktu and she’d be gone. No, not her. Who’s your second choice?”
Yeah. I get it. I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.”
What does the Bible say about equity?
In Mattew 20:1-15 we read: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first. And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’”
“And whatever is right I will give you…”
Yes, I understand that, in this parable, Jesus was talking about salvation, and the master of the house represents God. He was talking about how the Father will reward even those who come to Him in the eleventh hour. But it also illustrates how a godly employer, seeing his laborers’ needs, should satisfy them according to his ability to do so.
Yes, I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” But why can’t we at least make better efforts towards equity?
What a progressive idea! Yeah, but it’s a Christian idea too. Is it not?
Please feel free to leave a comment. I would enjoy dialoguing on this subject.