Lies people tell about minimum wage laws.

The explicit teaching of the Catholic Church is that employers have a moral duty to pay their employees a just wage. This has been taught by the popes for more than a hundred years, and is implicit in centuries of Catholic tradition. It is not an optional teaching. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, injustice to wage earners is one of the most serious sins.

Paragraph 2434 says: A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice. In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. "Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good. Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages." And paragraph 2409 says that paying unjust wages is theft.

Increasing the minimum wage is pro-life. Paragraph 1867 classifies injustice to wage earners with the murder of the innocent in its gravity. One of the major drivers of abortion is economic desperation. If we grind the faces of the poor into the dust with low wages, we encourage people to choose abortion rather than life. It is hypocrisy to claim to be pro-life while opposing economic measures that will reduce the abortion rate and save lives. Millions of American children have been murdered by abortion because of our low minimum wages.

There have been proposals this year, at both the federal and state levels of our government, to increase the minimum wage. Because this is a culture of death, it appears that all of these proposals are headed for defeat. In the process, much nonsense is written about them. Here are a few of the major lies people tell about minimum wage laws.

1. Minimum wage laws hurt the poor. The claim is made that employers will eliminate minimum wage jobs rather than pay their employees more. But this assumption is based on the idea that the minimum wage jobs are somehow superfluous to the economy. Why do these jobs exist if the work doesn't need to be done? Minimum wage jobs will always be with us. It isn't possible to out-source most minimum wage jobs to even lower paid workers in third world countries, because most minimum wage jobs involve personal service: cleaning, child care, cooking, etc. The economy is dynamic, businesses make many choices about how they spend their money. Employers have many options to reduce expenses rather than eliminating jobs. A business that contracts for cleaning homes and offices can't eliminate its workers, because without those workers it will have no business! The fact is, our low minimum wage laws primarily benefit the middle and upper classes, who are the consumers of the work of minimum wage workers. By keeping service work wages low, the middle and upper classes - that is, the people who are claiming that minimum wage laws hurt the poor - are able to hire personal service for cheap rates. That's what this is about: should the middle and upper classes be able to extort personal service from the poor by preying upon their economic desperation so they can find people willing to work cheap to clean their toilets and care for their children?

2. People make the minimum wage because they need skills. Are people really going to hire people with advanced degrees to sweep floors and empty waste baskets? If not, then this claim begs the question: who is going to do the kinds of jobs that presently pay the minimum or near-minimum wage, and why is it just to exploit them by paying an unjust wage for their labor? I am all in favor of increasing skills, but everybody can't go to Harvard and work for a New York law firm for a six figure salary. Somebody is going to have to clean the toilets. Why shouldn't they make a just wage for their labor?

3. A rising tide lifts all boats. If this is true, why is it that the incomes of 80% of the population have been stagnant or declining in constant dollars over the last 30 years, while the incomes of the top 20% have seen real increases in constant dollars over the same period? And those who are in the lowest 20% of household incomes have actually LOST buying power over the last 30 years. People making minimum or near minimum wages were doing a lot better 30 years ago than they are now. The rising tide is not lifting the rowboats, only the yachts.

4. The way to help the poor is to help the rich. This is one of the most clever propaganda campaigns in the modern era. The answer here is the same as the rising tide. If this is true, why is it that incomes are stagnant or declining in constant inflation adjusted dollars for everybody except for the top 20% of households?

5. Most minimum wage workers are teenagers, few adults make the minimum wage. People play a lot of games with statistics, but in any event, the minimum wage sets a floor where wages start. For every person making minimum wage, there are probably 3 or 4 people making near-minimum wage. If the minimum wage is increased, so will those wages, and that is good because the minimum wage is not really a just wage.

6. Many jobs are exempt from the minimum wage. This is certainly true, but it should not be considered an objection to increasing the minimum wage, but rather a comment on the power of the culture of death and the extent of economic justice in our communities. Many migrant laborers, for example, are exempt from the minimum wage laws, and thus are shamefully exploited by giant agribidness corporations. Supermarket produce comes with a heavy moral burden, as its cheapness is subsidized by the ability of big business to extort labor from desperately poor people.

7. Wages should be set by the marketplace, not by legislation. Hear now the voice of hypocrisy. Where is this support for laissez-faire capitalism when it comes time to write welfare checks to big corporations? It does a 180 degree turn and preaches "socialism for the rich and social darwinism for the poor. In our mixed economy, it is hypocrisy of the worst sort to claim that economic measures that help the poor should be avoided because they distort the marketplace while other proposals that help big business and the rich are enacted as matters of "economic development" It should also be noted that while big businesses can count on government support and subsidies, it is practically impossible these days for poor people to start small, entry-level, micro-enterprises and thus over time create their own jobs. This is not an accident, many of these laws and regulations have been supported by big businesses who don't want competition from entry-level upstarts, and like the idea of low income people being dependent upon corporations for jobs rather than being able to create their own jobs through self-employment and micro-enterprise.

By Robert Waldrop

http://www.justpeace.org | http://www.justpeace.org/lent2005cw.htm