A Dignified Livelihood

Background Article

The Church recognizes the dignity of work and the reality that workers have rights. Among these rights is a just wage. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls a just wage the “legitimate fruit of work” (2434). Such wages allow workers to provide a healthy livelihood for themselves and their families. Proper compensation for work connects to the common good. When hard-working people do not receive just wages, all of society suffers. The family is affected negatively in terms of relationships and health.

Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner.

Rerum Novarum (“On the Condition of Labor and the Working Classes”), Pope Leo XIII, 45

Profits are never more important than people. Yet sometimes people are marginalized for the sake of the bottom line. Businesses, corporations, and all economic activity are good in as much as they serve the needs of people (CCC 2432). Work, a form of continuing our participation in God’s creation, is our way of providing for a dignified livelihood.

  • How does another worker’s unjust wage affect me?
  • What prices am I willing to pay to support those companies and business who place people over profits?
  • What responsibility do I have to help others seek a dignified livelihood?

The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Catholic Campaign for Human Development
from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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Debating Wages

Unit Activity

A worker’s wage is credited not as a gift, but as something due.
Romans 4:4

In 1938 the US Congress passed (and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed) the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), establishing child labor laws, a minimum hourly wage, and maximum workweek. Have the young people review the US Department of Labor’s Minimum Wage Chart. Then have them find out the minimum wage in your state. How does it compare with the federal minimum wage? Discuss the importance of minimum wages, keeping in mind that a minimum wage is the lowest hourly wage an employer may legally pay workers, and the need for just wages.

Set up a debate involving members of your group with the topic: Should the minimum wage be a just wage? To take sides, participants will need to research the pros and cons of the issue. At the end of the debate, note that the US Bishops have long supported a just economy through decent work and decent wages.

Just Wage and the Federal Minimum Wage, February 2014 (PDF)
from the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development

Selected Quotations from Catholic Social Thought on the Rights and Responsibilities of Workers and Labor Unions (PDF)
from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Photo by frankieleon

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