The Christmas season is in full swing, which for some means an abundance of holiday shopping, eating and festive gatherings. For others, however, the holiday season is a time of financial strain, unpredictable work schedules and disappointed children. Minimum-wage workers in the retail and service industries bear the brunt of increased consumerism during the holidays and reap little reward. Despite long and unforgiving hours in the workplace, these workers often come home without enough money to pay their rent and bills, let alone buy food for special holiday meals or gifts to put under the Christmas tree.
The cashier at the grocery store, retail clerk at the mall, or server at a holiday party are examples of employees who put in long hours during the holiday season and typically make minimum wage or less. A single parent with one child who works a full-time, minimum-wage job earns just $15,080 before taxes. The federal poverty line for a family of two is $15,930. Hard work clearly does not equal economic security.
So what can be done to change this? While gift drives and holiday giving campaigns can help some working poor families enjoy a little Christmas cheer, a more just and sustainable way would be to raise wages. Efforts to raise the federal minimum wage have stalled, but calls for state leaders to pass their own minimum-wage laws are mounting.
To date, 29 states and Washington, D.C., have enacted laws setting the minimum wage higher than the federal limit of $7.25.
In 2014, 10 state legislatures enacted laws that increased the minimum wage. Unfortunately, Louisiana was not one of them. Despite broad public support, state lawmakers quickly rejected several bills aimed at increasing Louisiana’s minimum wage during the 2014 legislative session.
Change may be on the horizon, though. Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards has voiced his support for increasing the state’s minimum wage. What’s more, he is Catholic and his website states that his religious upbringing has “shaped his commitment to his community.” Catholic social teaching takes a clear stance on just wages and government’s role in protecting workers.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church holds that remuneration for work should guarantee workers the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for themselves and their families on the material, social and spiritual levels.
As 2015 comes to a close and the legislative session approaches, Louisianans must call on their new governor and state legislators to give workers and families the gift they truly deserve: a raise.
economic policy specialist