Envisioning a Minnesota without poverty

Earlier this month a coalition called “A Minnesota Without Poverty” convened an  anti-poverty conference involving some 40 non-profit advocacy groups to collaborate, reinvigorate and bring fruition to the recommendations of the Legislative Commission to End Poverty in Minnesota by 2020, issued in 2009.

As an advocate for the economically disadvantaged and marginalized, the Minnesota Catholic Conference was among the participating advocacy organizations.

This movement to help reduce poverty began in 2001 within the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and quickly evolved into an ecumenical and interfaith initiative to end poverty.

In 2004, the Catholic bishops of Minnesota, together with religious leaders from across the state, signed “A Common Foundation: Shared Principles for Work on Overcoming Poverty.” This document laid the groundwork to create the Legislative Commission to End Poverty in Minnesota by 2020.

The primary goal of the conference was to distill three key issues on which to focus their collective attention during the 2013 Legislature.

Emerging priorities

A Minnesota Without Poverty will release these three key issues soon, but consensus in some promising legislative areas began to emerge by the conclusion of the conference.

The majority of the group already stands behind a family economic security bill that would, among other changes, increase the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour from the current state rate of $6.15 for large employers and $5.25 for small employers.

Currently, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 for large employers trumps the lower state wage. Minnesota has a training wage of $4.90 applicable to any worker under 20 years of age for their first 90 days of employment.

Employees exempt from the Minnesota minimum wage include taxi drivers, babysitters, elected officials, firefighters and police officers, and any employee subject to the Department of Transportation’s regulations (truck drivers, mechanics, loaders, etc.).

Minnesota employers may not pay an employee under $6.15 per hour unless the employee or an occupation are specifically exempt from the minimum wage under state or federal law. According to a recent study, 4.5 percent of Minnesota’s hourly workers earn the minimum wage or less.

A second initiative to emerge from the anti-poverty conference is restoring work as a way out of poverty. Most people living in poverty are actively seeking gainful, meaningful employment to support themselves and their families.

An additional initiative may be increasing financial assets for households falling 200 percent or more below federal poverty levels (i.e., $37,060 annually for a family of three). Specifically, there are three types of assets: home purchasing, post-secondary education and small business capitalization.

More information about services provided by Family Assets for Independence in Minnesota can be accessed by visiting http://www.minnesotafaim.org.

Catholic perspective

As Catholics, we believe that God has a special concern for the poor.  The Church calls on all of us to put the needs of the poor first. This preferential option for the poor must include full participation in society and the economy.

According to our Catholic faith, each person has a right to the necessities for living a decent life — food, housing, health care, education and employment.

Catholic social teaching holds that work is more than a way to make a living: it is a form of participation in God’s creation. Ultimately then, the value of work is grounded in the dignity of the human beings who do it. Wages are a critical way by which we recognize that dignity.

In his encyclical letter, “Quadragesimo Anno,” Pope Pius XI did not retreat from the teaching that workers were due the wages needed to support their families.

In their 1986 pastoral message,  “Economic Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy,” the Catholic bishops of the United States emphasized the importance of full employment for all who seek work, which is predicated on the conviction that human work has a special dignity and is a key to achieving justice in society.

The bishops acknowledged that government has a prominent and indispensable role to play in addressing the problem of unemployment by coordinating general economic policies and job creation.

Along with our coalition partners and state lawmakers, the Minnesota Catholic Conference supports this sustained effort to help reduce poverty for the over half-million of our Minnesota brothers and sisters suffering today.

Peter Noll is education director for the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

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