Thursday, March 6, 2014

What does Catholic social doctrine say about the minimum wage?

Since the beginning of this year, there has been increased public debate regarding the minimum wage question.  Now, President Obama has signed an executive order regarding the minimum wage for federal contract workers, and the U.S. Senate has been debating legislation to make broader changes to federal minimum wage laws. 

While the question over just wage legislation rages for a time in the political world, Catholic business leaders must face this question on a daily basis in their own businesses.  What factors should be considered when determining a worker’s wage?  How does one balance the needs of the worker with the needs and constraints of the business?  

The answers to such questions are seldom easy and require a prudential judgment on the part of the business owner.  However, Catholic business leaders are not left without direction.  The social doctrine of the Catholic Church provides guidance to help business leaders make the morally right decision. 

The following are just a few excerpts about living wages from the question on just compensation in A Catechism for Business:

What factors should an employer consider to calculate just compensation for an employee?

“In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account.” –Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2434 (584)

“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.” –John Paul II, Laborem exercens, 19

“In determining wages, therefore, justice demands that account be taken not only of the needs of the individual workers and their families, but also of the financial state of the business concern for which they work.” –John XXIII, Mater et magistra, 33

A Catechism for Business also includes similar questions addressed by Catholic social doctrine, such as:
·          If an employee who is not forced to take a particular job agrees to a specific wage, does that make the wage just?
·         Whose responsibility is it to see that a just wage is paid?

To learn more about A Catechism for Business, please visit the book’s webpage at

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