(Update June 2005)
Since the last time the minimum wage was raised in 1997 to its current $5.15 per hour, it has lost more than 20% of its buying power. The value of the current minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, is $4.23 and falling. Advocates for low wage workers need to convince Congress that providing a raise for low income workers would not only help them make ends meet but would also advance the economic recovery.
Four Reasons to Increase the Minimum Wage
- $5.15 an hour is not a livable wage: A single earner working full time at the current minimum wage earns only $10,700 per year--nearly $5,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 40 percent of the workers who would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage are the sole wage earners in their households. Minimum wage workers not only prepare and serve our food at local restaurants; they take care of our children, our parents and our grandparents. They should be able to provide for their own families as well.
- An increase in the minimum wage would positively affect nearly 8.2 million of low-wage workers: According to one study, 7.3 million workers (5.8 percent of the workforce) would directly benefit from an increase in the minimum wage. Moreover, because employers often like to maintain wage differentials between entry-level workers and those who are more experienced, nearly a million more workers who already make more than the new minimum wage would also benefit from the increase.
- An increase in the minimum wage would disproportionately benefit women, minorities, and the nation's poor: studies show that households in the bottom 20 percent of the income spectrum, who receive only 5 percent of total family income ($15,728 per year, on average), received 35 percent of the total benefits of the last increase in the minimum wage.
Most of those affected by the last minimum wage increase (72 percent) were adults aged 20 and over, and more than half of all teenagers earning the minimum wage are in households with below-average incomes. An increase in the minimum wage would disproportionately benefit African Americans and Hispanics, and almost 60 percent of the benefits would go to women.
- An increase in the minimum wage will not increase joblessness: opponents of the minimum wage often argue that it increases unemployment for entry-level workers, thereby hurting the very people it is meant to help.
History clearly shows that raising the minimum wage has not negatively impacted the economy. In the four years after the last minimum wage increase passed, the economy experienced its strongest growth in over three decades. Nearly 11 million new jobs were added, at a pace of 232,000 per month. There were ten million new service industry jobs, including more than one and a half million retail jobs, of which nearly 600,000 were restaurant jobs.
Work has a special place in Catholic social thought: work is more than just a job; it is a reflection of our human dignity, and a way to contribute to the common good. Most importantly, it is the ordinary way people meet their material needs and community obligations. In Catholic teaching, the principle of a living wage is integral to our understanding of human work. Wages must be adequate for workers to provide for themselves and their families in dignity. Although the minimum wage is not a living wage, the Catholic bishops have supported increasing the minimum wage over the decades. The minimum wage needs to be raised to help restore its purchasing power, not just for the goods and services one can buy but for the self-esteem and self-worth it affords the worker. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supports legislation that would increase the minimum wage and is urging Congress to raise the minimum wage in a timely and meaningful way. June 06 Update
In mid-May, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Representative George Miller (D-CA) introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2005 (S. 1062, with 31 cosponsors in the Senate including Kennedy and HR 2429, with 100 cosponsors in the House including Miller). The bills would raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour in three steps, providing economic relief to 7.3 million Americans. The Bishops have long supported a minimum wage set to insure that no full time worker lived in poverty.
Urge Members of Congress to increase the minimum wage. Watch the USCCB/SDWP website for a new bill number when it is introduced later in the 109th Congress.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Economic Justice for All. Washington, D.C., 1984.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. A Catholic Framework for Economic Life, Washington, D.C., 1996.
Ryan, John A. Economic Justice: Selections from Distributive Justice and A Living Wage. Edited by Harlan R. Beckley. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 1996.
For More Information
Thomas Shellabarger at the USCCB, 202.541.3189, firstname.lastname@example.org