Hope in a Time of Poverty: Fair Wages and Economic Security

Reflectionson Poverty Prepared by the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development

Our Catholic faith teaches that family is essential, "the natural community in which human social nature is experienced, [which] makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the good of society."
~Pope Francis [1]

Healthy families make healthy communities, all working together to protect human life and dignity and promote the common good. To make this happen, and for families and family members to develop their full spiritual, cultural, educational, and vocational potential, it's important that their basic needs be met.[2]

We all have basic needs—a home, healthcare, education—and in our society many of those needs must be purchased. This is why access to financial resources like credit is essential. We depend on the availability of decent work and access to credit to build and sustain healthy and dignified family life.

Blessed John Paul II called work "a key, probably the essential key, to the whole social question."[3] In speaking of the rights of workers, Catholic tradition ties the question of a just wage directly to the family, saying, "an element that must be appreciated and safeguarded is that of a family wage, a wage sufficient to maintain a family and allow it to live decently. Such a wage must also allow for savings that will permit the acquisition of property as a guarantee of freedom."[4]

Millions of Americans are suffering as the result of an economy that does not produce enough jobs that pay decent wages. There are over three unemployed job seekers for every available job. So the poverty rate remains unacceptably high, and families struggle under the weight of increasing costs and stagnant or falling wages. Many families find themselves without bank accounts and access to credit.

In addition to stress and anxiety, a situation like this creates dangers of abuse and exploitation. Some take advantage of people living in poverty with practices like payday lending, punitive

interest rates, subprime mortgages, or even wage theft. Our tradition condemns this behavior in harsh terms: "Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide..."[5]

All people have dignity, and should have access to the resources they need to meet their needs, including access to fair credit. As the bishops have urged, "We must insure fair and equal access to available credit. We urge banks and savings and loan associations to meet their responsibilities..."[6]

There is much work to be done to build a society where families can thrive and communities flourish. Prayer and sensitivity to our neighbor is essential and learning about the extent of credit abuse and the lack of honest banking options for many can be eye opening. Don't be afraid to get involved! Some dioceses and parishes have banded together to provide credit options through micro-lending and the formation of credit unions, many times with the help of CCHD. And many CCHD groups are combating predatory lending practices locally and working to provide alternatives.

Working together, we can make a difference.

[1] Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 2004, no. 213.

[2] Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, 1963 no. 11-18.

[3] Pope John Paul II, Laborem Exercens, 1981, no. 3.

[4] Ibid. at i, no. 250.

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1992, no. 2269.

[6] USCCB, The Right to a Decent Home, 1975, no. 31-32.


Questions for Spiritual Reflection in the Parish or in Small Groups

  • Has your family—or another family you know—experienced unemployment or other financial hardship? What impact did this have on the family?
  • What is the connection between access to fair credit, just wages and healthy families? 
  • How is God calling you to lighten the burden of distressed families during this time of economic crisis?