The following guest post was authored by Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and leader of NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus.
All major faiths share a commitment to justice, especially for those who are living at the economic margins of our society. On Friday, Feb. 14, I saw that reality in action as faith leaders gathered with Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez to discuss the need to raise the minimum wage. One thing that struck me was the broad range of faiths represented (Muslim, Jewish, Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, Catholic), all sharing a common concern about just wages in our nation. We were united in the belief that forming the more perfect union means striving together to create the political will to raise the minimum wage.
During our entire hourlong meeting, two people lurked in my memory. The first is Robin, who I met last Wednesday when I sat next to her at the White House during President Obama’s signing of an executive order that will raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers. She works full-time at the minimum wage, which is not enough for her to find a rental unit in the D.C. area that she can afford. She told me that she lives in a homeless shelter. She was quite delighted that she doesn’t “look like a homeless person.” Her desire is to have her own place, and a raise in the minimum wage could do that for her.
The second person is Jason, an entrepreneur whom I met earlier in the month in La Jolla, Calif. He pays his workers more than minimum wage, even at the higher level with the proposed increase. He expressed annoyance that his tax money is going to safety-net programs that subsidize employers who pay their workers so little that the only way they can support their families is with government support. Jason wants a just wage that is good for workers and makes business pay their true costs without relying on government subsidies. He is tired of the handouts to businesses that he finds irresponsible.
Robin and Jason are just two of the people who would benefit from a just minimum wage, although the truth is we would all benefit since it would support the economy and ensure the dignity of all of our laborers. It is as Pope Francis says — a just wage enables workers to have adequate access to all the other goods that are destined for our common use. We must work together to achieve just wages in our society so that the Robins of our nation are no longer homeless and all can live in the dignity with which they are created. This will promote the general welfare of our entire nation!