Labor Day 2014: Rejecting an Economy of Exclusion

The USCCB’s 2014 Labor Day statement follows in Pope Francis’ footsteps. The statement highlights those who have been left behind as the economy has recovered from the Great Recession:

Digging a little deeper, however, reveals enduring hardship for millions of workers and their families. The poverty rate remains high, as 46 million Americans struggle to make ends meet. The economy continues to fail in producing enough decent jobs for everyone who is able to work, despite the increasing numbers of retiring baby boomers. There are twice as many unemployed job seekers as there are available jobs, and that does not include the seven million part-time workers who want to work full-time. Millions more, especially the long-term unemployed, are discouraged and dejected.

The USCCB also points out the economic difficulties specifically faced by many millennials:

More concerning is that our young adults have borne the brunt of this crisis of unemployment and underemployment. The unemployment rate for young adults in America, at over 13 percent, is more than double the national average (6.2 percent). For those fortunate enough to have jobs, many pay poorly. Greater numbers of debt-strapped college graduates move back in with their parents, while high school graduates and others may have less debt but very few decent job opportunities. Pope Francis has reserved some of his strongest language for speaking about young adult unemployment, calling it “evil,” an “atrocity,” and emblematic of the “throwaway culture.”

The statement contrasts an economy of exclusion with the type of economy that is compatible with human dignity and the culture of encounter:

Supporting policies and institutions that create decent jobs, pay just wages, and support family formation and stability will also honor the dignity of workers. Raising the minimum wage, more and better workforce training programs, and smarter regulations that minimize negative unintended consequences would be good places to start.

In doing this we follow the lead of Pope Francis in rejecting an economy of exclusion and embracing an authentic culture of encounter. Our younger generations are counting on us to leave them a world better than the one we inherited.

This strong statement from the USCCB was not the only one worth reading for Labor Day; Bishop Howard Hubbard wrote an excellent article in NCR, as well. He explains the value and dignity of work, along with its connection to the rights of workers:

As we approach our national observance of Labor Day, it is good to remember the importance of work in our lives. Faith tells us that work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of contemporary participation in God’s plan of salvation and of being co-creators with God in bringing the world to its fulfillment. It is a means of growing, sharing and enhancing one’s own life and that of one’s family and the wider community.

Because work is so essential for the well-being of the individual, the family and society, the dignity of work must be protected and the basic rights of workers are to be respected: the right to productive work, to a decent and fair wage, to safe working conditions, to organize and join unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.

After outlining some of the economic justice issues present today, he explained the continued need for unions, always a good reminder on Labor Day:

It is imperative, therefore, that we promote workers’ organizations that defend their rights and ward off those forces of capitalism that can be exploitive and dehumanizing.

Unfortunately, far too often, the debate over economic policy tends to neglect the human, social and moral dimensions of economic life, and that is why the formulation and implementation of solutions to our economic woes cannot be left solely to the technicians, special interest groups and market forces. For what is at stake is not really economic theories or political programs, but human life.

Behind every statistic and chart that seeks to define the problem lie individual tragedies and families trying to cope with unemployment and poverty. Our present crisis is a moral as well as an economic one and must be addressed as such. May Labor Day 2014 prompt us to do so.

It is good to see such clear-sighted analysis of the economy and powerful defenses of the dignity of work and economic justice from Catholic leaders.