Smucker Lecture

Minimum wage hike helps everyone: Bluffton speaker

Opposition to an increase in the federal minimum wage “smacks of slavery,” Bluffton University’s Smucker Lecturer in social work said Feb. 25.

Arvis Averette, social work coordinator at the Chicago Center for Urban Life and Culture, recalled the 1963 March on Washington, saying “the most controversial issue we had” was a call for a minimum wage of $2 per hour.

Opponents said “America will die if we pay people $2 an hour,” he told a Bluffton forum audience, and the same arguments against an increase have been made each of the roughly 20 times the minimum wage has been hiked since then.

Noting how the American economy has grown in the 51 years since 1963, Averette maintained that if workers’ pay rises, they spend more money, which goes into the system “and everybody benefits.”

He admires individuals who start a small business and pay their employees “a living wage,” he added, expressing his belief, too, that business students need to learn ethics.

Economics and social work, though seemingly distinct fields on paper, “intersect at every point” in practice, said Averette, who also holds a master’s degree in economics and has taught the subject at Chicago’s Columbia College.

The Canton, Ohio, native said his experience with a client who had won—and spent—a lottery jackpot “squashed” his idea that having money would help prevent social work-related problems. For the lottery winner, those problems eventually included homelessness as well, he pointed out.

Averette, who asserted that “social work affects everyone,” supervises social work field placement and Conducting Social Work seminar courses at the Chicago Center, where he has worked for the last 20 years following an initial stint in the 1980s.

The Chicago Center has been a longtime host of Bluffton students on cross-cultural experiences. Averette said later that he considers them “eager scholars” who come to Chicago prepared for the cultural differences they encounter.

He decried what he called insufficient funding of both his city’s public schools and public-employee pensions both in Chicago and Illinois in general. Services are being withdrawn from the city’s African-American community that it had “pulled together to get,” he said, citing ShoreBank as an example. The community development bank closed in 2010 after nearly 40 years in business and now, restructured as part of Urban Partnership Bank, is moving from its original location.

People need to reach out and work with each other, Averette urged, noting a “friendship group” in which some of his African-American students have joined local Chinese residents. China now provides more aid to Africa than the U.S. and Great Britain combined, he said, so “if the Chinese and Africans are getting together on the international level, they should be able to get together locally.”

The Smucker Lecture, which brings significant contributors to the field of social work to Bluffton, is named for Carl Smucker, who taught social work on campus for 34 years beginning in 1944.