Pope Francis is quickly becoming the cool pope, with his socially progressive agenda and humble actions. He has lashed out at capitalists and said "who I am I to judge" gays if they are good people? He has blessed deformed worshipers, sneaked out at night to feed the hungry, invited homeless people to his birthday party, literally washed the feet of troubled kids, and told breastfeeding moms not to worry about their nipples showing in front of him -- just feed their babies as nature intended.
Yesterday afternoon, Miami's Archbishop Thomas Wenski offered a statement that supported the pope and said that minimum wage is too "paltry" and undignified for today's workers.
His statement is below:
Pope Francis -- Time Magazine's Person of the Year -- has captured the attention and the imagination of the world. His recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) has provoked much comment and no little controversy. In it, echoing his predecessors, he laments a consumerism focused on things rather than people. He mourns for the many places where humans serve the economy rather the other way around. He condemns what he calls a "throw away culture" that excludes and marginalizes the weakest and the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.
His words should provoke reflection -- and lead to action -- especially in the face of the challenges faced by low-wage workers in our economy today. This year the minimum wage in Florida will rise to a paltry $7.93 an hour. This is hardly enough for a worker to support oneself, much less a family. Many of the working poor, to avoid going hungry, must depend on the limited resources provided by parish food pantries or by government subsidies through various types of public assistance. Some of these subsidies (food stamps) have been rolled back, and none of them really help enhance the dignity of the worker. In many ways, these subsidies represent a type of "corporate welfare" -- they benefit businesses and enable them not to pay their workers a living wage. On the other hand, higher wages would reduce dependency on such subsidies, alleviate workers' economic insecurity and help economic recovery by enhancing spending.
Economic problems are complicated and there is no simple or single solution. But today in America, too many families are suffering under the weight of increasing moral, cultural, and economic pressures. Millions of young adults, unable to find decent work, are delaying marriage and starting a family, the "fundamental seed" of society necessary for human flourishing. Most distressing of it all is the loss of hope. Low-wage workers desperate for a fair shake are giving up hope of financial security. Too many parents are less hopeful that their children will grow up to enjoy a better life than they did.
Low wages that do not allow workers to earn enough to pay rent at the end of the month and to put enough food on the table for their kids leads to what the Pope has also called "an economy of exclusion," stunting the lives of the poor for lack of opportunity. Work, which Blessed John Paul II called "probably the essential key to the whole social question," to be worthy of man must afford work "dignity" by allowing the worker to form and support a family.
For a worker to be dignified by his or her work, remuneration must be just. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that workers deserve just wages, wages that allow them and their families to fulfill material, social, cultural, and spiritual needs. The current state and federal minimum wages do not meet that standard. Those who toil to harvest our produce, to cook and serve our food, and to clean our buildings, are our brothers and sisters--and they deserve to enjoy the same dignity in work that others enjoy.
Florida's poverty rate of 17.1% is among the highest in the nation. Almost one million Florida families live below 200% of the federal poverty level. And looking towards the future, half of the new jobs projected to be added to our economy will be in low-wage occupations. These jobs, to a great extent, will be filled by adults and not, as sometimes suggested, by teenagers who still live at home.
In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, "The dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require, particularly today, that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive and morally unacceptable manner. . . ." The growing gap in wages between the most affluent of our citizens and middle- and lower-income workers needs to be addressed. As Pope Francis has repeatedly said, we cannot tolerate a "globalization of indifference." We cannot rob the working poor of hope.
Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski Archdiocese of Miami
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