A reader wonders what a “living wage” is

A reader wonders what a “living wage” is June 27, 2016

 

A living wage fulfills four criteria:

  1. Families in general seem to be living at a standard of decency appropriate to their society;
  2. They do so without working undue hours;
  3. They do so without wives being forced to work outside the home or children forced to work inappropriate hours or under inappropriate conditions (if they choose to do so, that’s another story);
  4. They do so without undue reliance on government support or consumer credit.

For more on this and related issues, see my piece on the Common Good aspect of Catholic Social Teaching: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/the-catholic-church-and-the-common-good-an-unbroken-line-of-tradition1/#ixzz4Cpq3hIuf

In addition, the very helpful Fr. Terry Donahue adds:

The concept of a living wage (also referred to as a just wage or a family wage) is mentioned in various Magisterial documents, including Gaudium et spes:

“By his labor a man ordinarily supports himself and his family, is joined to his fellow men and serves them, and can exercise genuine charity and be a partner in the work of bringing divine creation to perfection. Indeed, we hold that through labor offered to God man is associated with the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, Who conferred an eminent dignity on labor when at Nazareth He worked with His own hands. From this there follows for every man the duty of working faithfully and also the right to work. It is the duty of society, moreover, according to the circumstances prevailing in it, and in keeping with its role, to help the citizens to find sufficient employment. Finally, remuneration for labor is to be such that man may be furnished the means to cultivate worthily his own material, social, cultural, and spiritual life and that of his dependents, in view of the function and productiveness of each one, the conditions of the factory or workshop, and the common good.” (Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, 67)

Footnote 6 there cites Rerum novarum par 43-46, Quadragesimo Anno par. 66-72,Divini Redemptoris par. 50-53 and Mater et magistra par. 70-71.

Pope Saint John Paul II taught on “just remuneration” in Laborem exercens in 1981:

“It should also be noted that the justice of a socioeconomic system and, in each case, its just functioning, deserve in the final analysis to be evaluated by the way in which man’s work is properly remunerated in the system. Here we return once more to the first principle of the whole ethical and social order, namely, the principle of the common use of goods. In every system, regardless of the fundamental relationships within it between capital and labour, wages, that is to say remuneration for work, are still apractical means whereby the vast majority of people can have access to those goods which are intended for common use: both the goods of nature and manufactured goods. Both kinds of goods become accessible to the worker through the wage which he receives as remuneration for his work. Hence, in every case, a just wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the whole socioeconomic system and, in any case, of checking that it is functioning justly. It is not the only means of checking, but it is a particularly important one and, in a sense, the key means.

This means of checking concerns above all the family. Just remuneration for the work of an adult who is responsible for a family means remuneration which will suffice for establishing and properly maintaining a family and for providing security for its future. Such remuneration can be given either through what is called a family wage-that is, a single salary given to the head of the family fot his work, sufficient for the needs of the family without the other spouse having to take up gainful employment outside the home-or through other social measures such as family allowances or grants to mothers devoting themselves exclusively to their families. These grants should correspond to the actual needs, that is, to the number of dependents for as long as they are not in a position to assume proper responsibility for their own lives.” (John Paul II,Laborem exercens, 19)

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