US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Faith leaders urge Congress to raise the minimum wage

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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Tomorrow the Senate will vote on a bill to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, and faith leaders are signing on in support—literally. A letter today signed by more than 350 national religious leaders and 5,000 supporters from the faith community reminds Congress that there’s a moral component to this decision.

Says Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, “The principles of Catholic Social Teaching give us a measure that gauges how our economic and social policies and practices impact our society, especially by calling to attention how they impact the least among us. Is the inherent dignity of all people being respected? Do all people have the opportunity to work and are they paid a just wage? These are moral questions that our faith demands we ask.”

Much like Charles Clark argues in our current Sounding Board survey, John Schmitt, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, lays out some of the reasons why this proposal is imperative, from a numbers standpoint. According to Schmitt:

  • Federal minimum wage is at a low level by historical standards. The current rate $7.25 is less than the peak value of $10 in 1968, but we are also twice as rich per person now than we were nearly 50 years ago. Another way of saying that: We pay workers roughly 30 percent less than what we paid workers in 1968, when we were half as wealthy.
  • 17 million workers would be directly affected by increasing the minimum wage to $10.10. In addition, 10 million workers just above the minimum level would likely see an increase in their wages.
  • Minimum wage policy is simple and effective. We’ve increased it 22 times since its inception in 1938. More than 20 states have minimum wages higher than the federal level, and it’s an easy policy to administer with a high rate of compliance.

Part of the debate surrounding the minimum wage often includes the argument that while something should be done to help those in need, it should be the role of charity groups as opposed to the government. But as Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice says, “All faith traditions teachings say we have to care for the least of those. [Faith leaders] are the sponsors of soup kitchens and shelters – we see working families and children and know they aren’t making enough.” Bobo’s own parish runs a soup kitchen that serves 200 people a night. “Almost everybody in there is also on food stamps and struggling to get jobs. We could not as a church begin to meet the need if we didn’t have the government involvement,” she says. “I don’t know any church that says they can handle more. We need to have society addressing this problem so that we don’t have to have the level of soup kitchens and shelters we have in this nation.”

Adds Snyder of Catholic Charities, “The role of the state is to provide for the common good. And that’s more than just civil protections. It’s also, we believe, looking to be sure that the most vulnerable among us are taken care of.”

To read Charles Clark’s argument for increasing the minimum wage, click here and be sure to take our survey and let us know what you think. Also don’t miss our interview with Kim Bobo, where she talks wages and worker justice.