Opinion

Minimum wage increase helps all

Art by Jack Ciolli

BY: ZAC DAVIS, PHILLIP DE TOMBE, and GEORGE SEELINGER

Three weeks ago, Mr. Lamb asked, “How should a Catholic look at the calls to increase the minimum wage?”  We respond with another question: Should anyone in the wealthiest country in the world work 40 hours a week and still live in poverty?

How could a Catholic guided by Catholic Social Teaching (CST) reply with anything but a resounding “No”? And yet, for many people working minimum wage jobs, poverty is the stark reality.

From the first official document outlining CST, “Rerum Novarum,” Pope Leo XIII argued that workers’ wages must allow them to support their families. The United States Catholic Bishops applied this idea in Economic Justice for All, saying, “Work with adequate pay for all who seek it is the primary means for achieving basic justice in our society.”

CST says justice demands compensating workers with enough pay to provide for themselves and their families. According to a study at the Massachusetts Institute of technology, “a typical family of four (two working adults, two children) needs to work more than three full-time minimum-wage jobs (a 68-hour work week per working adult) to earn a living wage.” This cannot be justice.

To argue that CST allows for a “different policy action” is incorrect. It demands just wages. Tax subsidies, or a negative income tax, which come once a year, are unhelpful to someone who lives paycheck to paycheck.

While we as a society have a responsibility to help those who are less fortunate, it is our hope that those who work full time should not be forced to supplement their incomes with governmental assistance to get by.

There is a long tradition of adjusting the minimum wage in the U.S. When the federal minimum wage was first introduced in 1938, it was $0.25 an hour. Since then, it has been raised 28 times. To pretend that this is a novel or apocalyptic issue is simply irresponsible, partisan and intentional misrepresentation.

Consumer spending is at least 60 percent of our economy, and raising minimum wage allows for increased demand, benefitting all those who produce goods and services as a result. Factually based studies have repeatedly shown that raising the minimum wage does not result in fewer jobs.

The increased payroll costs are simply found somewhere else in the budget, or pushed onto the consumers. Don’t worry, it only increases by pennies — a Big Mac will not cost $22.99.

The Congressional Budget Office report on minimum wage, a study often cited by conservative politicians, even fails to support claims like this: “Of the 17 million workers directly affected by the $10.10 option, 16.5 million would end up with higher earnings … and 500,000 would end up jobless and therefore with lower earnings.”

Even by the worst estimate, which doesn’t have historical support, 97 percent of people end up with a wage that keeps them and a family of three out of poverty. Three percent may lose their jobs.

The proposed minimum wage hikes are in response to inflation, for which there is historical precedent. Some states have moved in the direction of indexing minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index.

This seems like a no-brainer: When prices go up because of inflation, wages should follow. Only a handful of states have adopted this approach, but they still lock in wages below the poverty line.

Any American, Catholic or not, considering a federal minimum wage hike must examine the issue in terms of the real effects it will have on people. It is not controversial to say that people who work full time should be able to support themselves and their family; this statement is a basic belief of our country.

Informed citizens should not give into fears about unreliable possibilities based on haphazard understandings of economic theories, but rather consider well-informed studies together with historical context.

In the words of Pope Leo XIII, “It necessarily follows that each [worker] has a natural right to procure what is required in order to live, and the poor can procure that in no other way than by what they can earn through their work.”

Zac Davis, Phillip de Tombe and George Seelinger are contributing columnists. You can contact them at zdavis2@luc.edu, pdetombe1@luc.edu and gseelinger@luc.edu, respectively.

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