Raising the minimum wage

The Legislature is considering several initiatives to increase the minimum wage in Massachusetts from the current $6.75 per hour to a rate that could range between $7.75 and $8.25.

We welcome the effort. As the cost of living increases every year, those whose salaries depend on the minimum wage are the most affected. Often they have no financial “cushion” to deal with rising prices. Just think of how fuel prices — including not only gasoline but heating oil — have increased in the past few years.

The last time a minimum-wage increase was passed was in 1999. Can anyone with a sense of justice contend that this is not the time for a raise?

Some fear that an increase in minimum wage will negatively affect the ability of businesses to compete in the market. Those concerns need to be raised and dealt with appropriately, but they cannot be resolved at the expense of the weakest link in the economic chain.

The concept of establishing a minimum wage was a crucial step in creating a more humane society. Before that time, agreement between the employers and the employees frequently led to unjust salaries based solely on the rules of labor supply and demand — with no regard to justice and fairness.

Catholic social justice doctrine as expressed in the Second Vatican Council stresses that the minimum wage should guarantee the worker “the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level.”

The bishops of Massachusetts are affirming their support of the measure. (A copy of the joint statement expressing that support appears on page 2.)

Speaking to The Pilot, Ed Saunders, director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference explained why an increase in the minimum wage is so important.

“It’s not only going to allow them to buy the goods and services they need for their own benefit and for their families but it’s going to help them to grow as individuals and help their families improve,” he said.

He further stressed that the positive effect of an increase could go far beyond those workers who receive the minimum wage.

“Employers like to maintain wage differentials between those at the entry levels and low levels and the more experienced workers. I think there is a bit of a domino effect here that those above the minimum wage may receive some benefits here to maintain wage differentials,” he said.

While it is obvious that the scourge of poverty will not be solved by this measure, it is one step in the right direction.