Bishops Offer Scathing Critique of the Economy in Labor Day Statement

Here are some highlights from the USCCB’s 2015 Labor Day Statement, which closely aligns with Pope Francis’ message on the economy:

Even with some economic progress, things have not truly improved for most American families. We must not resign ourselves to a ‘new normal’ with an economy that does not provide stable work at a living wage for too many men and women. The poverty rate remains painfully high. The unemployment rate has declined, yet much of that is due to people simply giving up looking for a job, not because they have found full-time work. The majority of jobs provide little in the way of sufficient wages, retirement benefits, stability, or family security, and too many families are stringing together part-time jobs to pay the bills. Opportunities for younger workers are in serious decline.

The continuing struggles of most families to make ends meet are on display before our eyes, both at home and abroad. This Labor Day, we have a tremendous opportunity to reflect on how dignified work with a living wage is critical to helping our families and our greater society thrive….

Is there any question that families in America are struggling today? Too many marriages bear the crushing weight of unpredictable schedules from multiple jobs, which make impossible adequate time for nurturing children, faith, and community. Wage stagnation has increased pressures on families, as the costs of food, housing, transportation, and education continue to pile up. Couples intentionally delay marriage, as unemployment and substandard work make a vison of stable family life difficult to see.

Is there any question that too many children feel the tragic pangs of hunger and poverty commonplace in a society that seems willing to accept these things as routine, the cost of doing business? Millions of children live in or near poverty in this country. Many of them are latch key kids, returning to empty homes every day as their working parents struggle to make ends meet….

We share one common home as part of a larger, single family, so the dignity of workers, the stability of families, and the health of communities are all intertwined. The path to a renewed society is built on authentic solidarity and rooted in faith. It rejects the individualism and materialism that make us indifferent to suffering and closed to the possibility of encounter.

Individual reflection and action is critical. We are in need of a profound conversion of heart at all levels of our lives. Let us examine our choices, and demand for ourselves and one another spirits of gratitude, authentic relationship and true concern. Pope Francis reminds us that “Saint Therese of Lisieux invites us to practice the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship . . . [and] break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness” (no. 230). The changes we make to how we live and interact with each other can help change the world.

Yet individual effort should not stand alone. Our faith calling to love one another impels us to share that vision of charity and justice with others, and to go forth and encounter those at the margins. Through collective action and movements, we have to recommit ourselves to our brothers and sisters around the world in the human family, and build systems and structures that nurture family formation and stability in our own homes and neighborhoods. Sufficient decent work that honors dignity and families is a necessary component of the task before us, and it is the Catholic way.

In demanding a living wage for workers we give hope to those struggling to provide for their families, as well as young workers who hope to have families of their own someday. Unions and worker associations, as with all human institutions, are imperfect, yet they remain indispensable to this work, and they can exemplify the importance of subsidiarity and solidarity in action.