Increasing the minimum wage is once again a struggle. All the hope, anticipation, and promise of the last Congress were dashed by partisan bickering. Both parties in Congress and the Administration agreed that the minimum wage should be increased. However, they could not agree on the time in which the increase should be implemented, nor the size and scope of the accompanying tax relief package. How ironic, during this most robust economic time, Congress saw fit to give themselves a raise, but refused to raise the income of the lowest paid workers.
The value of the minimum wage lags far behind "a living wage." The real value of the current minimum wage is 30 percent below its peak of 1968 and 24 percent below its level in 1979. Increasing the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.65 could be one significant way for society to give low-income workers some share of our ongoing economic growth. To merely keep up with today's economy, the minimum wage needs to be raised by $1.50.
If the minimum wage is increased to $6.65 today, 11.9 million workersnearly 10 percent of the workforcewould benefit. Of these workers:
- 70% are adults and 60% are women
- close to half (48.0%) work full time
- another third (32.0%) works between 20 and 34 hours per week
- one third (32.0%) of these workers are parents of children under age 18
- the average minimum wage worker brings home more than half (54%) of his or her family's weekly earnings
- eighteen percent of these workers live in households with annual incomes below $10,000
- half of these workers live in households with incomes below $25,000 a year
Work has a special place in Catholic social thought: it is more than just a job, it is a reflection of our human dignity, and a way to contribute to the common good. Most important, 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. While the minimum wage is not a living wage, the Church has 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 individual.
The United States Catholic Conference supports legislation that would increase the minimum wage and is urging Congress to raise the minimum wage in a timely and meaningful way!
As you know, both the Senate and the House of Representatives voted for a $1 increase in the minimum wage in the last Congress. They should each be encouraged to complete the task early in the new Congress.
Senator Kennedy (D-MA) introduced S. 277 in the Senate and Mr. Bonior (D-MI) will introduce the same bill in the House soon. The Fair Minimum Way Act of 2001 would increase the minimum wage to $6.65 in increments of $.60 after 30 days of enactment, $.50 in January of 2002, and $.40 in January 2003. The bill also includes provisions to raise the minimum wage in the U.S. territory known as the Northern Mariana Islands.
Members of Congress should be urged to cosponsor and support this legislation. The monetary increase represents the smallest percentage increase ever in the minimum wage.
Ryan, John A. Economic Justice: Selections from Distributive Justice and A Living Wage. Edited by Harlan R. Beckley. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 1996.
National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Economic Justice for All. Washington, D.C., 1984.
National Conference of Catholic Bishops. "A Catholic Framework for Economic Life," Washington, D.C., 1996
More Information: Thom Shellabarger at the USCC, 202.541.3189,
Seth Turner at Catholic Charities USA, 703.549.1390 x162,