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Monday, January 08, 2007

'Raise Federal Minimum Wage,' Catholic Bishops Urge Congress

The U.S. bishops are calling for an increase in the federal minimum wage in a Jan. 8 letter to Congress, backing one of the top priorities of the Democrats who have taken control of Capitol Hill.

"The minimum wage needs to be raised not just for the goods and services a person can buy but for the self-esteem and self-worth it affords," says the letter signed by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, chairman of the bishops' Domestic Policy Committee.

Bishop DiMarzio says that U.S. bishops as pastors see many working people who need realistic salaries.

"We serve too many families where men and women work full-time and still live in destitution," Bishop DiMarzio says. "Congress needs to make budget and policy choices that will ensure adequate funding to help families escape joblessness, move beyond welfare, choose decent education for their children, gain needed health care coverage, and overcome hunger and homelessness."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, and Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, Senate majority leader, have made raising the federal minimum wage a top priority for their "first 100 hours" for the 110th Congress sworn in last week.

Democrats now control both sides of Congress for the first time since 1994.

The current minimum wage is just $5.15 an hour, which is $10,700 ayear for a full-time worker -- nearly $6,000 below the poverty level for a family of three, Bishop DiMarzio notes. The federal minimum wage has not been raised in a decade.

"Work has a special place in Catholic social thought. Work is more thanjust a job; it is a reflection of human dignity and a way to contribute to the common good," DiMarzio says. "Most importantly, it is the ordinary way people meet theirmaterial needs and community obligations. In Catholic teaching, the principle of a just wage is integral to our understanding of human work.Wages must be adequate for workers to provide for themselves and their families in dignity. The United States bishops' Conference has supported the minimum wage since its inception as a just means to protect the human rights and dignity of workers."

Bishop DiMarzio invokes the highest Catholic authority in support of a wage hike.

"In his Encyclical, 'God is Love,' Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that: 'The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics ... Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. Politics is more than a mere mechanism for defining the rules ofpublic life: its origin and its goal are found in justice, which by its very nature has to do with ethics. The State must inevitably face the question of how justice can be achieved here and now,'" DiMarzio writes.

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