US Catholic Faith in Real Life

With renewed push from the president, support for minimum wage increase continues to grow

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The White House announced today that President Barack Obama has issued an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract employees to $10.10, and during tonight's State of the Union Address, Obama is expected to once again call on Congress to raise the national minimum wage to the same level. The president's message is one we've heard not just from politicians, but from the U.S. Catholic bishops as well: Today's current minimum wage is just too difficult for anyone to survive on.

From individual bishops like Cardinal Timothy Dolan to representatives of the national bishops' conference, church leaders have been making a case to legislators to bump up the minimum wage of $7.25/hour. Today's minimum wage earns a full-time worker just $290 for a 40-hour week, or $15,080 per year. In a family with two parents working full-time at minimum wage, that's only $31,000 a year--a difficult amount for any family to survive on.

Last week, the Economic Policy Institute released some data comparing today's minimum wage workers to those of 1968, when the minimum wage (adjusted for inflation) reached its peak of $1.60/hour--which according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator would be $10.71 today. Even more interesting is the fact that today, 46 percent of minimum wage workers are college educated (compared to 17 percent in 1968) and 79 percent are high school graduates (an increase from 48 percent in 1968). So in other words, these are educated people struggling to make ends meet, not just teens looking to make some extra spending money.

But what about the argument that minimum wage increases hurt the economy? More than 600 economists who have signed a letter calling on Congress to raise the minimum wage would disagree with that argument. The letter--whose signatories include economists from several Catholic institutions like Notre Dame, Loyola Marymount, Boston College, Benedictine University, and Belmont Abbey College--says that there have been recent studies on the issue with "the weight of evidence now showing that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market." They point to research that finds raising the income of low-wage workers actually stimulates the economy by increasing spending, which in turn increases demand and job production.

The Catholic Church has long argued for a just wage for all workers, and Catholic leaders have argued that those who work hard at their jobs should not be trapped in poverty. The bishops will no doubt welcome this latest push for an increase to the wages of workers. The support for the cause continues to grow and get louder by the day. The question is how long it will take the country's decision makers to hear and answer the call.