With the minimum wage at $7.25 an hour and many employers setting their compensation at that level or a little above, it is quite common for adults, responsible for earning their family's income, to be in poverty and needing SNAP assistance.
Plenty of companies show spectacular profits and pay handsome compensation to their executives, but forget to value their workers. Could they afford to raise their minimum pay to $15/Hr and still be profitable, without requiring price hikes? A compensation of $15/Hr is not only far more realistic, but also historically consistent. Dan Torrington, the Tucson Council President, says, “When I was a young man in 1960 I had a menial job that paid $1.75/Hr. Today, that same rate, if adjusted for the actual inflation, would be $13.38”.
Trader Joe, Quick Trip and Costco (among others) do it and remain competitive. At Costco, an average worker made about $45,000 in 2011, according to Fortune Magazine. These companies have all found that the act of valuing workers can pay off in the form of increased sales and productivity.
The social teachings of the Church about economics define a just wage as enough money for a family to have a frugal but honorable living with one wage earner in the family. The Just Wage position paper on the Society’s website also helps us to understand the issue.
For low-wage employees not earning enough to support their families, obtaining SNAP benefits becomes the only alternative. SNAP, encourages work and rewards it. The Charts below show how many SNAP recipients are in the workforce:
Analyzing this situation and its consequences, we realize that the employers, paying such a low wage, are in effect exacting a subsidy from both their employees and the Federal Government, who has to make-up for the family’s missing earning.
Blessed Frederic Ozanam called this “exploitation”, a new form of “slavery”. “Exploitation occurs when the master considers his workers not as a partner, nor even as an assistant, but as an instrument out of which he must extract as much service as possible at the smallest possible price. Yet the exploitation of a man by another man is slavery. The worker-machine is nothing more than part of capital like the slaves of the ancients. Service becomes servitude.”
Let’s conclude with a quote from a Jewish friend: “One thing I appreciate from my background is the lesson from the Passover table that if anyone is enslaved, no one is free. So many people are enslaved in so many countries, including our own. There’s a lot of work to do.”