cit·i·zen (noun) – ˈsidizə (noun)n,ˈsidisən/
- a native or naturalized member of a state or nation who owes allegiance to its government and is entitled to its protection.
- an inhabitant of a city or town, especially one entitled to its privileges or franchises.
Many people have espoused the importance of a living wage. A living wage, as defined by The Poverty Center of America, is an approximate income needed to meet a family’s basic needs, enabling the working poor to achieve financial independence (via savings, investments or the purchase of capital assets such as a retirement portfolio or a home), while maintaining housing and food security. As people in beloved community, it is our responsibility to advocate for all people who are entitled protections and privileges that come with citizenship in our country. One of the loudest, non-clergy leaders in our Universalist history was an attorney and businessman who lived his economic life as a reflection of what he believed.
Owen D. Young was a farm boy born in Van Hornsvillein upstate New York. As his parents only surviving child, Owen was given as many opportunities as they could afford, including an education which they could barely afford with their dairy farm income. But the Youngs valued work and education and passed these values on to Owen. Because of his work with the local Unitarian Church (he was the Sunday School superintendant at age 15!) the president of St. Lawrence University personally recruited him to attend college. After St. Lawrence, Owen was set to enter Harvard University to study law but, because he would have to work to pay his tuition, Harvard turned him down. Owen didn’t want to further burden his parents with the expense of his law degree so he went to Boston University’s law school and worked to pay for his own tuition and expenses.
Owen understood the value of hard work but he was aware that all the hard work in the world wouldn’t help you if you didn’t get a fair chance to succeed. He regularly encouraged the business community “respect the rights and dignity of labor”. He believed not only in a “living wage” but a “cultural wage”, allowing for enrichment in the lives of workers in education, health, recreation and provision for the future (savings). (Buehrens, 2011) He wanted people, the laborers, to be valued and for the business leaders to show “greater financial restraint” and invest in the communities surrounding them.
Owen didn’t just talk about his values, he lived them. By the time he retired to his family farm in the 1939, he owed more in charitable donations than he brought in as income. He paid all of his pledges. He later retired to Florida and could be seen selling grapefruits along U.S. 1 to supplement his modest lifestyle.
Owen D. Young knew the value of work and worked to help people get the most value out of their educations and their labor up until the end of his days. He is one of my UU heroes. So, how can we be like Owen D. Young? We can help our community by investing in it with OUR MONEY and OUR TIME.
- We can purchase winter coats and donate food to through the Ed Huberman Box.
- We can tutor the children at Chancellor Avenue School. Even our older, middle schoolers can go in on tutoring days to help these kids.
- We can write letters to our community leaders and congress people asking them to enact a living minimum wage. People need a true living wage – a cultural wage where lives and communities can improve.
- We can examine our lifestyles. Do we live our UU ideals in the way we shop and eat?