Economics And Dignity
By Patrick Winn
As if this country needs another issue dividing us, the issue of dignity should not be one of them. Catholic Charities staff has, over the past several years, been involved in studying books that make us think: “Toxic Charity,” “Charity Detox,” both by Robert Lupton; “Justice” by Michael Sandel, and “Open Wide our Hearts” from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 
All have been reviewed in the context of our mission statement which, in part, resonates with the mandate that we “assist people in achieving a degree of independence consonant with their human dignity.” 
Even the description of where people in the Diocese of Rockford live gets divisively labeled. As politicians and pundits argue their ideologies, nuances surface from their selected words. During political campaigns, Illinois — and thus our diocese — is located in either the “heartland” or “flyover country.” Wage rates get labeled according to agendas, resulting in political and economic naming rights over: 
Minimum wage: what the law requires as an entry level amount.
Living wage: enough to pay for the basics.
Fair wage: amount wanted when feeling under appreciated.
Family wage: amount needed by a family of four even though families of four no longer describe the “average” family. 
Just wage: an aspirational amount unrelated to the work. 
And now, the new label of “Goldilocks Wage,” that is, the maximum wage that can be paid before the costs outweigh the benefits. “It’s just right.”
Unfortunately, the only way to determine what is living, fair, family, just or Goldilocks, is by trial and error. And burdening any determination with advocacy for political gain only heat up the language instead of the shedding light on the issues. 
If $15 is indeed the magic minimum wage because it is 70% of the median U.S. hourly wage, what will it be when Illinois reaches that level in 2023? If the median gets skewed as wage earners have more to spend on the upside, or the next recession robs individuals of income on the downside, there will likely be no call to account for differing costs or standards of living. 
Rather, faith-based and social services agencies will and must stand in the breach. Fair enough, but that money will have to come from somewhere.
Wage rates are political fodder in states with significant differences in costs of living. In Illinois and in the Rockford Diocese, the average wage and employment rate fluctuate significantly with partisans using the rates as wedges in conversations as voters get courted. Unfortunately, opponents become enemies by what gets vilified as the worst of capitalism or socialism. 
This is where justice and dignity come in: an acceptance of opponents’ disagreeable good faith is a place to start. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, perhaps economic definitions are the overhead traffic warning signs on the way there. 
Drive safely.