Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Raising the minimum wage

Last November, following one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in American history, there was one policy that united us as a nation; that policy was raising the federal minimum wage.


In fact, 67 percent of people responding to one poll reported that they supported raising the minimum wage from the current rate of $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour. This is particularly interesting in light of the current debate in Congress on whether to raise the minimum wage.


The Brookings Institute has an informative article that reports some interesting facts. One is that, in Florida, which President Trump won, a ballot initiative to raise the state minimum wage from $8.56 to $15 per hour by 2026 passed with the support of more than 60 percent of the voters. The majority of voters cast a ballot for Donald Trump and for an increased minimum wage.


From the Catholic perspective, the minimum wage is a matter of social justice. We believe that all economic life should be shaped by moral principles. “Economic choices and institutions must be judged by how they protect or undermine the life and dignity of the human person, support the family and serve the common good.”


According to the Catechism, “In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. ‘Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural, and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good.’”


In a background paper prepared by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2014, we learn the following:

“The federal minimum wage has lost more than 30% of its value and would be more than $10/hour today if it had merely kept pace with the cost of living over the past forty years. If it had kept pace with worker productivity growth over the same period, it would be over $18/hour. Low-wage workers are doing and making more with the same amount of time, working harder, but not enjoying the fruits of their labor.” 

The bishops went on to note:

“Work has a special place in Catholic teaching. Work is more than just a job; it is a reflection of our human dignity and a way to contribute to the common good. . . . Wages earned from work are the primary way people meet their material needs and contribute to the common good.

The family is the fundamental cell of society and where we first learn, love, and develop. A living wage is a fundamental right of workers and a moral imperative of employers because it provides workers with the means and resources to form and support a family. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church points out, “In order to protect this relationship between family and work, an element that must be appreciated and safeguarded is that of a family wage, a wage sufficient to maintain a family and allow it to live decently. Such a wage must also allow for savings that will permit the acquisition of property as a guarantee of freedom. The right to property is closely connected with the existence of families, which protect themselves from need thanks also to savings and to the building up of family property” (No. 250).


Catholic Bishops in the United States have long supported increases in the federal minimum wage to ensure that no full time worker and their family lived in poverty. The federal minimum wage is not a living wage, and it is not a silver bullet to solve all economic problems, but it is one way to ensure workers are compensated fairly.”

While some argue that raising the minimum wage will lead to large increases in the prices of goods and services, research shows that this is not necessarily true or concerning. For example, companies such as Target have found that the increased wages were offset by savings on recruitment and training as employees stayed longer, reducing turnover. And at least one study has shown that restaurant food pricing prices rose by just 0.36 percent for every 10 percent increase in the minimum wage.

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