What is a just wage?

Just like a person has the right to work, a person is also entitled to a “just wage” in the eyes of the Church. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in part, “A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice.” (2434) 

It points out that a just wage should cover material necessities and families’ “social, cultural and spiritual level” of livelihood. 

In St. John Paul II’s 1981 encyclical “Laborem Exercens” or “Through Work,” affirming the dignity of workers, poverty is a “violation of the dignity of human work.”

“Either because the opportunities for human work are limited as a result of the source of unemployment, or because a low value is put on work and the rights that flow from it, especially the right to a just wage and the personal security of the worker and his or her family.” (Laborem Exercens, 8) 

Father Taryn Whittington said minimum wage does not often keep up with the rate of inflation. The minimum wage in Arkansas is $11. However, according to a November 2023 THV11.com article, some exceptions exist, like employees who receive tips. Arkansas requires tipped employees a minimum of $2.63. 

“(Minimum wage) can cover what they need to live, but they barely have time to consider and pursue things that give life its richness, like taking your kids on vacation. And it doesn’t have to be an expensive vacation, but even meaningful time together on the lake. To go out and do those things, it (a job) should be able to support all of that,” Father Whittington said, adding for families with two working parents, “It hardly evens out because of the cost of daycare.”

Aprille Hanson Spivey

Aprille Hanson Spivey has contributed to Arkansas Catholic as a freelancer and associate editor since 2010. She leads the Beacon of Hope grief ministry at St. Joseph Church in Conway.

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