Catholic leaders are calling on Congress to raise the minimum wage, for the good of low-wage workers and their families. “An economy thrives only when it is centered on the dignity and well-being of the workers and families in it,” stated a letter to members of Congress from Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami and Sister Donna Markham, OP, president of Catholic Charities USA. Archbishop Wenski chairs the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. The current federal minimum wage is not enough for a father working full-time to raise a child out of poverty, the letter said. Furthermore, the wage is static and only increases when Congress raises it — it is not tied to inflation, meaning that in real terms, its falls every year. “This leads to increased demand for Charities’ services and reliance on the social safety net to make ends meet,” the letter added. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, enacted in 2009 as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act. President Obama has repeatedly pushed for Congress and businesses to raise the minimum wage, most recently calling for it to be hiked to over $10 an hour. In February, 2014 he signed an executive order raising the wage to $10.10 for federal contract workers. Minimum wage increases have sparked a debate about their influence on businesses and low-wage workers. Supporters argue that according to studies employment is not significantly affected by moderate wage increases, and that pay hikes benefit workers far more than any subsequent drop in employment rates may hurt them. Opponents claim that mandatory wage hikes disproportionately affect small businesses who may not have the resources to increase wages that big businesses have, and thus must cut low-wage jobs. Many low-wage workers are not fathers with children, they argue, but are younger, less experienced workers who would lose valuable work experience if their jobs were cut because of a wage increase. Certain businesses have already increased their minimum wages without any law being passed first. For example, the CEO of Seattle-based Gravity Payments made headlines earlier this year by taking a pay cut down to $70,000 a year from $1 million and giving all his employees a pay raise. In their letter to Congress, Archbishop Wenski and Sister Markham referenced St. John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus, which was written on the 100-year anniversary of the landmark social encyclical Rerum Novarum, on capital and labor. They quoted the encyclical that “society and the State must ensure wage levels adequate for the maintenance of the worker and his family, including a certain amount for savings.” “This requires a continuous effort to improve workers' training and capability so that their work will be more skilled and productive, as well as careful controls and adequate legislative measures to block shameful forms of exploitation, especially to the disadvantage of the most vulnerable workers,” the encyclical continued.
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