Money should serve, not rule

All Americans have a stake in raising our nation’s woefully inadequate minimum wage and unconscionable tipped minimum wage of $2.13 per hour, but for women it’s especially urgent. Two out of three minimum wage workers are women. Not coincidentally, the majority of working poor people in our nation are women.

As International Women’s Day approaches, Congress has an opportunity to empower marginalized, struggling women by raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and the tipped minimum wage to 70 percent of the minimum wage, and indexing them to inflation.  

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This isn’t just an economic issue, it’s a moral one. It’s time to put family values and the dignity of work at the center of the debate. No one who puts in an honest day’s work should go home at the end of her shift to a stack of bills she can’t pay and a family that doesn’t know where the next meal is coming from. 

As faith leaders, our beliefs about wages and the economy more broadly are rooted in centuries of church teaching. Pope Francis recently encapsulated one of the key principles for a moral economy when he said “money must serve, not rule!” The economy’s purpose is to serve people, not vice versa. 

Families with both parents working full time at the minimum wage simply cannot keep up with rent, groceries and utilities -- let alone save for their kids' education. Instead of providing opportunity, today's minimum wage is imposing poverty. 

When a mom who works 40 hours a week must turn to a church’s food pantry or government assistance in order to feed her children, the economy is not serving the people. Instead of promoting dignity, it is creating desperation. 

These are symptoms of what Pope Francis calls “an economy of exclusion.” We must do better. The minimum wage must be a fair family wage. 

We mustn’t forget the contrast with what’s happening at the other end of the spectrum. Six years after the Great Recession plunged millions into unemployment and despair, almost all of the recovery’s benefits have gone to the wealthiest few and corporate profits. If Americans believe the economy is unjust and stacked against them, they have good reason. 

Meanwhile, 6 of the 10 fastest growing job sectors are classified as low-wage. Telling low-income women that simply getting a better job is the key to overcoming poverty is cold comfort and out of touch with the facts on the ground.

If we truly value equality for women and the sanctity of the family, it’s time to ensure that the bottom rung of the economic ladder is above the poverty line.

Butler is executive direxctor of Faith in Public Life. Campbell is executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby.