Excerpts from "A Living Wage," 1906


"At this moment the condition of the working population is the questions of the hour: and nothing can be of higher interest to all classes of the state than it should be rightly and reasonably decided." (Art. 60)

"There is a dictate of nature more imperious and more ancient than any bargain between man and man, that the remuneration must be enough to support the wage-earner in reasonable and frugal comfort. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil, the workingman accepts harder conditions because an employer or contractor will give him no better, he is the victim of force and injustice." (Art. 45)

--Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum


In his autobiography, Social Doctrine in Action, Father John A. Ryan explains how Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum inspired him to become involved in social reform. Although many American Catholics, at the time, interpreted it as simply an anti-Socialism document, Rerum Novarum was the first encyclical to address the problems of labor in the new industrial economy. In this encyclical, Pope Leo touches upon several major themes of Catholic social justice: dignity of the human person, option for the poor, rights and responsibilities of the individual, and the role of government and subsidiary. Moved to action by the Pope, Ryan used data collected by investigators and researchers, such as those at Hull House, to determine what constituted a "living wage." As noted earlier, Father Ryan did not work simply with raw data, he also incorporated his ideas on family, religion, and what he believed constitutes a right and proper life. Interestingly, and perhaps also logically, he not only calculated the minimum that a family needed to live a right and reasonable life, but also the maximum as well.

In 1905, Fr. Ryan calculated that anything less than $600 a year did not constitute a living wage. Understanding the changing times, by 1918, he had adjusted his living wage to accommodate changes in the cost of living. The data indicated that in the past nearly fifteen years, the cost of living had doubled, requiring a wage of $1,386 for families to meet their needs. The budget and excerpts are from the 1906 edition of A Living Wage. Answer the following questions focusing on the excerpts in the blue boxes.



  • Examining Fr. Ryan's list, which expenses still apply today, and which expenses would you add as an "objective necessity" and an "acquired necessity"?
  • Did any "necessary" expense surprise you? Why?
  • Was Fr. Ryan talking about subsistence or about living? What is the difference?
  • What is Fr. Ryan's conception of the family and what it needs to be comfortable?