Introducing the


What makes any given wage just or unjust?

In 2017 the Higgins Labor Program convened the Just Wage Working Group to explore this fundamental question. The group was interdisciplinary– made up of scholars and students–and their work was rooted in the Catholic social tradition’s (CST) commitment to the dignity of work and those who perform it. In their first year they identified seven core criteria that together combine to determine the justness of any given wage scenario. Those criteria are visually represented as a honeycomb of hexagons to show their interconnectedness, as well as their embedding within larger political, economic, and cultural contexts.

Just Wage Framework

Below you’ll find the seven core criteria, with links to learn more about each. After exploring the Just Wage Framework by individual criteria, go here to use the Just Wage Tool to assess the justness of any given wage scenario.

Yellow hexagon 1

Criterion 1:

A Just Wage enables a decent life for a worker and their household.

A just wage covers the basics necessary for a minimally decent life for a worker and the worker’s household, including hours of work that are predictable, not excessive, and provide regular rest to facilitate a decent life away from work. Further, a just wage rests upon a healthy and safe working environment mitigating stress and facilitating flourishing; it provides paid time off in the form of personal days, vacation, and in times of sickness of the worker or another household member. Ultimately, a just wage provides resources, in the form of both pay and time, that foster the worker’s self-development socially, culturally, and spiritually.

Criterion 2:

Wage Enables Asset Building

A just wage offers disposable income, enabling savings and property ownership; provides benefits in the form of educational enrichment, professional development and skills enhancement; and promotes opportunities for advancement and income growth. Further, a just wage structure facilitates personal and community development.

Yellow Hexagon 3

Criterion 3:

Wage Provides Basic Social Security for Worker and Household

A just wage includes — for the worker and the worker’s household — adequate health care coverage; retirement income; wage protection in case of injury, inability to work, and death; wage protection in case of unemployment; and provisions for paid leave upon the birth or adoption of a child, provisions to defray the expenses associated with child care, and paid family leave upon the extended illness of a household member.

Yellow Hexagon 4

Criterion 4:

Wage Structure is Non-Discriminatory

A just wage is free of any taint of discrimination in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, ethnicity, country of origin, migration status, age, and ability. Fundamentally, a just wage structure reflects equality of opportunity to all by exhibiting equal pay for equal work, fostering inclusive recruitment and promotion policies, and showcasing transparency in the promotion of genuine fairness.

Yellow Hexagon 5

Criterion 5:

Wage is not Excessive

A just wage is not excessive. Within an organization, a just wage structure features a policy inhibiting extreme inequality between the highest and lowest earners; it promotes the sustainability of the enterprise in the long-term interests of all stakeholders. More broadly, a just wage exhibits proportionality within a wider economic community.

Yellow Hexagon 6

Criterion 6:

Wage Reflects Participation by Workers

A just wage — as well as a wider just wage structure — is best determined by negotiation via union recognition, collective bargaining, and regular contracts. In the absence of collective bargaining, a just wage can be encouraged by standardized guidelines featuring due process procedures in wage negotiations and disputes, as well as input via bodies chosen by the workers themselves (staff councils, advisory bodies, etc.). Regardless of union recognition, a just wage structure should include representation of workers in leadership positions (such as boards of directors) and opportunities for co-ownership (via stock options, e.g.).

Yellow Hexagon 7

Criterion 7:

Wage Considers Performance, Qualification, and Type of Work

A just wage reflects compensation for experience, education, and training; it is informed by regularized and standardized evaluations measuring job performance; and it is part of a wage structure featuring transparent and fair delineations of titles, functions, and job descriptions.