Wal-Mart & Catholic Social Teaching, in which he discusses the City Council for the District of Columbia passing a new 'living wage' law that "applies specifically to large scale businesses like Wal-Mart, writer Michael Sean Winters opens with a quote from Pope Leo XIII's encyclical, Rerum Novarum:
"There is a dictate of nature more imperious and more ancient than any bargain between man and man, that the remuneration must be enough to support the wage-earner in reasonable and frugal comfort. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil, the workingman accepts harder conditions because an employer or contractor will give him no better, he is the victim of force and injustice."
Winters contends that while hardly - if ever - sympathetic to Catholic concerns, the DC City Council did the right thing in mandating that Walmart be required to pay employees no less than $12.50 an hour.
Parenthetically, this is the same City Council which recently passed a bill allowing "transgender and intersex residents to amend their birth certificates to reflect their correct personal information, such as gender and name, and obtain unmarked, updated copies of the certificates".
Winter's discussion of a "living wage" lead me to reread Rerum Novarum and to look further into the idea.
The Living Wage Action Coalition defines a living wage this way:
"A living wage is a decent wage. It affords the earner and her or his family the most basic costs of living without need for government support or poverty programs. With a living wage an individual can take pride in her work and enjoy the decency of a life beyond poverty, beyond an endless cycle of working and sleeping, beyond the ditch of poverty wages."
According to one so-called "living wage calculator", an individual living in my area, while supporting a household consisting of 2 adults and one child, should earn at least $16.26 an hour.
As a Catholic, I agree with the notion that everyone should be paid a decent wage, but nowhere in Rerum Novarum is it written that it is up to the State to enforce this ideal on businesses.
Obviously, should Walmart be forced to pay workers in Rome, GA. either the minimum wage of $12.50 an hour, or the living wage of $16.26, the company would be forced to shut it's doors. The prices Walmart would be forced to charge it's customers would make their products unaffordable. $16.26 would no longer be the "living wage" in this area. It's called inflation.
If the State wanted the workers to earn a living wage, it should encourage the workers to live frugally and soberly, and further their education. Instead, the State encourages materialism, gambling, substance abuse and sexual immorality.
Rather than expect government to force businesses to pay $16 or $17 or $18 an hour, one should concentrate on making oneself worth higher wages.