A discussion of workers’ wages is a good starting point for fixing the U.S. economy, the chairman of the US bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development said Tuesday in testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The committee’s hearing was dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which codified the national minimum wage for the first time.
“We can begin the process of fixing our economy by returning the worker to the center of economic life,” said Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California, in his testimony. “One of the best ways to do that is with decent jobs that pay just wages, thereby honoring human dignity and restoring hope to workers and families. Increasing the minimum wage to a level that reflects the real economic reality faced by families today would go far in building an economy worthy of the humans that operate in it.”
Bishop Blaire said the Working Poor Families Project recently reported that there were 10.4 million low-income working families in 2011, including 23.5 million children. “Work should be a ladder out of poverty for families, it should not trap them in poverty,” said Bishop Blaire. “Yet this is where we find ourselves – a growing number of families are working but do not make enough to live in dignity. It is a scandal that the richest country in the world has allowed over 23 million children in working poor families to become the norm.”
Bishop Blaire cited statistics from the Congressional Budget Office, which reported last year that the average income of the wealthiest 1% of Americans has increased 275% over the last 30 years. The income of the poorest 20%, on average, increased by less than 20%, despite an increase in worker productivity over the same time.
Bishop Blaire quoted Catholic teaching from Popes Leo XIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, on the rights and dignity of workers. “A just wage confirms the dignity of the worker,” said Bishop Blaire. “And conversely, a wage that does not even allow a worker to support a family or meet basic human needs tears her down and demeans her dignity. The worker becomes just another commodity.”
More information on the hearing and Bishop Blaire’s testimony is available online:www.help.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=6edc1440-5056-a032-52fa-28728f8b3947. . .