LIVING WAGE: The Concept that Hasn’t Shaken the World Yet

“The overall median income for all 155 million persons over the age of 15 who worked with earnings in 2005 was $28,567. In 2009, the minimum wage was raised to $7.25, the first raise in more than ten years. What does that mean? The minimum wage is a little more than the poverty level for the one person family unit and about 50% of the poverty level for a family of four. Annual wages of $30, 160, $45,240, $75,400, $150,800 and 1.5 M correspond to 2, 3, 5, 10 and 100 times minimum wage respectively.” These are facts about personal income in the United States, which have been quoted from Wikipedia.

Living Wage is a Catholic concept and began with an encyclical from Pope Leo XIII in 1891. Basically it said that if a worker receives wages that enable him to provide comfortably for himself, his wife, and his children, he’ll be able to accrue a little wealth, and as the right of private property is sacred, the law should favor this right, and “see that the largest possible number among the masses prefer to own property.”

The correct interpretation of this concept, the relationship between a living wage and the concept of private property as sacred, can only be that the two conditions side by side enable the stability of a society. “Pope Leo affirms the right to private property while insisting on the role of the State to require a living wage.”

The second point the good Pope Leo XIII made was that owners of the means of production, we can call them businesses, and employers, must not forget that “both divine and human law forbid them to squeeze the poor and wretched for the sake of gain or to profit from the helplessness of others.”

This concept of divine law exerting influence on human law is echoed in our Bill of Rights and in our Constitution. It doesn’t take a Pope, or a newly sainted Priest, or an Official of the Church to recognize the connection between an idea of the good, the common good, and its necessary weight in the decisions met by society. And yet, we needn’t look far to examine breaches in the social contract, ethically aberrant choices made in areas of such industries as pharmaceuticals, health insurance, investment and mortgage banks. Decisions made without the intention of the common good take society into an amoral framework, where results are not related to responsibility.

Our education systems have been inadequate, especially in the area of instilling ethical concepts, in some, who would go into business. It would also seem that too few are appointed to the task of making ethical judgments about the practices of the corporation. The recent decision by the Supreme Court, that a corporation is a person too, has left our society, which is, in some instances bereft of ethical men, now potentially overrun by whole armies of men lacking ethics, men who can now legally plunge their money into the system like a poison dagger.

For Pope Leo XIII it was important to protect the world’s good, along with the world’s goods, and necessarily save workers from “the brutality of those who used human beings as instruments for the unrestrained acquisition of wealth.” He went onto evolve humane and tolerant ideas about limiting the length of the work day, having a time and place for rest, and not making demands beyond the worker’s health and capacity.

These were pretty forward concepts for 1891, but the obvious appropriateness of them precipitated legislative reform movements throughout the world. To restate the pact between the two main ideas in another way: “The means of production was considered by the Pope to be both private property requiring state protection and a dimension of the common good requiring state regulation.”

The concept of a living wage is defined as “minimum hourly income necessary for a worker to meet basic needs,” for a limited or extended amount of time, which include shelter, clothing, and food. In the UK and Switzerland, this standard generally means that a person working 40 hours a week should be able to afford housing, food, utilities, transport, health care, and recreation.

No matter which way you prefer to define it, the concept of the living wage gave us the concept of the minimum wage. But the minimum wage is required by law, and it’s painfully apparent that the minimum wage is no where near what we might call a living wage. Rather, it’s the “trickle down” variation on the living wage. So we have a situation in which millions of people, working people, are without the necessary resources to cover their basic needs. These are the people you hear addressed as the working poor.

This is a situation that needs to be remedied, and yet as we know, small business owners, many of them risking their own finances, cannot possibly afford to pay a living wage to their employees. In the case of large and successful corporations, for example Wal-Mart, minimum wage is still customary. After a period of three working years, the Wal-Mart employee can hope to be making about $9.60 an hour. There is no excuse for the county’s largest and most successful department store to be operating on that basis.

Public-held corporations, those which are listed on the stock market, make huge profits and should be required to pay a portion of wages, those wages beyond minimum wages, in other words, to the standard of living wages, in corporate stock. Lest someone shout communism, please remember that public corporations are owned by the stockholders who buy company stock. Why shouldn’t all employees earn company stock? Higher echelon employees earn stock, and stock options, and bonuses routinely. This is a formula that was used by companies during the tech revolution, such as Apple, and it made them highly successful.

People also view

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *