Cardinal Dolan: Raise the Wage!

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is calling for a living wage, saying the minimum wage is too low:

New Yorkers are now thoughtfully considering a proposal from Gov. Cuomo to raise the minimum wage. When I contemplate issues like this, my thoughts often turn to my visits to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. One place I make it a point to visit is the tomb of Pope Leo XIII, who taught back in 1891 that every worker deserves a “living wage,” which he defined as one which allows the worker to care for his or her family in “reasonable and frugal comfort,” tending to their home, education and health.

Then I’ll stop in front of the tomb of Pope St. John Paul II, who wrote in 1991 that work was not an end in itself, but a means to an end, the end being the dignity of the worker, the sacredness of life and the ability of the laborer to provide the basics for a spouse and children.

I always go to the side altar of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, himself a carpenter, who raised Jesus in a workshop with a sense of the dignity of labor. And, of course, the high altar, over the tomb of St. Peter, where Pope Francis celebrates Mass. As we saw so clearly during his visit to New York last September, the Pope has become the planet’s most eloquent advocate for the rights of the struggling and poor….

We can all agree that a minimum wage is valuable protection for laborers, and that the current level is too low. We can also find common ground in recalling that our workers not only deserve a living wage, but also benefits to help with health insurance, pensions, sick leave and vacation.

What is the Whole Life Movement?

At its core, the whole life movement is dedicated to protecting the life and dignity of all people. It is rooted in a belief in the innate dignity and worth of every single human being. Each human being is a person with innate and equal value, and human life is sacred. From these premises comes the belief that it is never permissible to intentionally and directly take an innocent life. But the wanton disregard for life present in unjust social structures and the dehumanization of others in ways short of direct killing are also incompatible with the whole life commitment to human life and dignity. Indirect threats to life, such as the absence of access to healthcare or food, are also fundamentally incompatible with the vision of government and society the whole life movement aims to achieve: the common good. Protecting the life of all people is intimately connected to creating conditions that reflect the dignity of every single person, conditions that allow each person to reach their full potential.

The whole life movement is not a rival of the pro-life movement. Instead, it seeks to purify the pro-life movement of its inconsistencies. A pro-life movement that ignores infant mortality rates, starvation, or the degradation of the environment simply does not deserve the label ‘pro-life.’ It becomes a mere euphemism for supporting laws that restrict access to abortion. It becomes detached from the understanding of human dignity and worth that should animate the movement. Only a whole life approach can make the pro-life movement authentically pro-life. Read More

Pope Francis Calls For Equal Pay For Equal Work

via Crux:

Pope Francis on Wednesday backed equal pay for equal work for women, calling it a “Christian duty” to fight to make sure that women receive equivalent compensation for doing the same jobs as men.

The pontiff also called it “chauvinistic” to fault the women’s rights movement for a decrease in marriages in recent decades, calling that accusation a thinly disguised way to “control the woman.”

The pontiff said that “the Christian seed” of equality between men and women must generate new fruit, through a more persuasive witness to the social dignity of marriage.

“As Christians, we must become more demanding in this regard,” Francis said, citing support for the right to equal pay for equal work as an example.

Bringing Chips to the Potluck: Taxation and Inequality in the American System

Everybody knows that guy…the guy that brings a bag of chips to the potluck. Don’t be that guy.

Why? Because everyone else at the potluck made their grandma’s famous German potato salad, called their uncle for his classic barbeque dry rub, or at least thoughtfully picked out the nicest-looking watermelon from the local grocery store. But not that guy. He brought nothing but a measly, rumpled bag of potato chips that he already had at home in his lavishly stocked pantry. It is not right, and it is not fair to everyone else who did their part to make the potluck a success. And if you have too many guys bringing chips, the potluck is not a success and the party is ruined.

Sadly this type of behavior is not only present in our social lives, but ingrained in the American tax system. As it stands today, many American taxpayers are paying a disproportionately large amount of the income they need to live a life that is fully compatible with human dignity—making sacrifices that have a real impact on their well-being—while an elite few are paying just a fraction of their excess. Economic inequality is growing, and it is threatening to shred the national fabric of our country.

Let’s look at the larger problem here. Here are some shock-value statistics that are, sadly, not that shocking anymore:

  • 1% of Americans have 40% of the nation’s wealth
  • In 1976, the richest 1% took home 9% of the nation’s income. In 2012, they took home 24%.
  • CEO’s make 380 times their average worker’s pay.
  • America has more inequality than any other nation with an advanced economy.

The chasm of income and wealth inequality in the United States is vast and ever-growing, and it might swallow us all if we aren’t careful. Top American corporations in the financial services sector are admitting that inequality is a threat to the U.S. economy. Standard and Poor says, “The current level of income inequality in the U.S. is dampening GDP growth, at a time when the world’s biggest economy is struggling to recover from the Great Recession and the government is in need of funds to support an aging population.”

What does this economic inequality mean for real people? It means some people are choosing between food and their diabetes medicine, while others are choosing between Venice and Prague.

People are increasingly realizing what a problem this inequality is. What some people don’t think about, however, is the role that taxes play in this mess.

Our dysfunctional tax system plays a critical role in perpetuating and increasing the wealth gap. This problem began decades ago and is in no small part due to the fact that taxation has become less progressive. The Bush tax cuts delivered massive savings for the richest Americans. But this shift can also be seen in the growing reliance on regressive and flat taxes. Whereas progressive taxes calculate the amount that people pay based on their ability to pay, regressive taxes take a larger portion of income from low-income families than high-income families. For example, regressive payroll taxes, which cost people with lower incomes much more proportionately than the wealthy, are projected to rise to about one-third of federal revenue in 2015.

Furthermore, the wealthiest 400 people in the United States have two-thirds of their wealth in the form of capital gains and dividends. The top 1% owns half of the country’s stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. However, these forms of income are taxed at 15%, a significantly lower rate than income-from-work, which is taxed at up to 35%.

Our tax system must be designed to serve the common good. But right now, it does not. How can it? The National Conference of Catholic Bishops drafted a document called Economic Justice for All, which outlines three principles toward creating a just tax system:

  • First, the tax system should raise adequate revenues to pay for the public needs of society, especially to meet the basic needs of the poor.
  • Second, the tax system should be structured according to the principle of progressivity, so that those with relatively greater financial resources pay a higher rate of taxation. The inclusion of such a principle in tax policies is an important means of reducing the severe inequalities of income and wealth in the nation.
  • Third, families below the official poverty line should not be required to pay income taxes. Such families are, by definition, without sufficient resources to purchase the basic necessities of life. They should not be forced to bear the additional burden of paying income taxes.

Whether we like it or not, taxes are a matter of justice. As contentious and annoying as they might seem, taxes are necessary for the common good. This means that we shouldn’t think about taxes and say, “I worked hard for this money. It’s mine. Don’t take it from me.” Rather, we should contribute to the good of society based on how much we have to give and based on the needs of the community. And we should support tax policies that reflect this. Yes, you have probably worked really hard. And yes, you have earned that money. But we are called to share the gifts we have been given with those who do not have enough. That is the model of the early Christian communities, and the generosity, the caritas to which we are called today. This must shape our understanding of justice and push us to support a just system of taxation that serves all.

In other words, we shouldn’t be thinking about how we can bring the cheapest thing to the potluck and still eat like a king, particularly if we are living large at home, while others who took the time to make a quality contribution are struggling to make ends meet.

Gaudium et Spes, one of the four apostolic constitutions from Vatican II, said that “It is imperative that no one, out of indifference to the course of events or because of inertia, would indulge in a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfill one’s obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good according to one’s means and the needs of others, and also to promote and help public and private organizations devoted to bettering the conditions of life.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this means that we should be proud to pay our taxes! We should be proud that we are making a just contribution to the common good. We should be proud to share our favorite recipe at the potluck! We should be proud that we have done our part to make the potluck a success. We should be willing to do our part, and we should have tax-payer pride! (#taxpayerpride)

Last year, Pope Francis said, “Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry.”

Poverty is a cry, Pope Francis says. It is a cry for a more just tax system, a system that asks us each to bring our best to the potluck, not just that crummy bag of chips.

Allison Walter is the policy education associate for NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby.

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.

Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Mercy, Part I by Michael Sean Winters: “Most of us Christians grew up with the idea that the God of the Hebrews was an angry God. Certainly, many Christians have conceived him as such. But, Kasper sets out to destroy this myth and largely succeeds.”

Part II and Part III

Finding Faith in The Simpsons: The Top Five Theological Episodes of The Simpsons by Katharine Mahon: “But hidden inside this deeply flawed family and this caricature of American culture is a honest and rich depiction of family life in 1990’s America. The show explores moral dilemmas, spiritual crises, the love of spouse, parent, child, and sibling, as well as the testing of that love.”

Saudi Arabia continues its outrageous repression of human rights activists by Washington Post: “Saudi Arabia remains determined to shut the windows, close the doors and throw dissidents into solitary confinement.”

U.N. says pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine murder, kidnap and torture by Louis Charbonneau: “Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine are guilty of a wide array of human rights abuses, including murder, abductions and torture, and are receiving a “steady supply” of sophisticated weapons and ammunition, according to a U.N. report obtained by Reuters.”

The Mental Virtues by David Brooks: “In fact, the mind is embedded in human nature, and very often thinking well means pushing against the grain of our nature — against vanity, against laziness, against the desire for certainty, against the desire to avoid painful truths. Good thinking isn’t just adopting the right technique. It’s a moral enterprise and requires good character, the ability to go against our lesser impulses for the sake of our higher ones.”

The Saint Who Taught Me to Worship by Timothy O’Malley: “The vocation of humanity is this kind of praise, a perfect praise in which every form of worship finds its end not in better, more sophisticated (and novel) worship that generates more and more emotion. But in that gift of self, which Christians call love. Worship is not about us, it is not about our affections. Instead, it is about becoming who God intended us to be: members of a symphony of perfect praise of the voice and the will alike.”

ISIS selling Yazidi women in Syria by Raja Razek and Jason Hanna: “Hundreds of Yazidi women abducted by ISIS have either been sold or handed out to members of the Sunni extremist group, according to an organization that monitors the crisis.”

Getting to the Crux of why Catholicism matters by John Allen: “In places such as the Philippines, corruption is a signature Catholic concern, and with good reason. Global Financial Integrity, a research organization based in Washington, estimates that corruption cost poor nations almost $6 trillion over the last decade, draining badly needed resources for education, health care, and poverty relief.”

Russia Is Burying Soldiers in Unmarked Graves Just to Conceal Their Role in Ukraine by Josh Kovensky: “The Russian government couldn’t care less about its dead soldiers. Paratroopers who have been killed in Ukraine are not receiving military funerals, nor are they being recognized for having died for their country. Rather, their graves have been kept unmarked.”

More Workers Are Claiming ‘Wage Theft’ by NY Times: “The lawsuit is part of a flood of recent cases — brought in California and across the nation — that accuse employers of violating minimum wage and overtime laws, erasing work hours and wrongfully taking employees’ tips. Worker advocates call these practices ‘wage theft,’ insisting it has become far too prevalent.”

What’s missing in the Ebola fight in West Africa by Jim Yong Kim and Paul Farmer: “To halt this epidemic, we need an emergency response that is equal to the challenge. We need international organizations and wealthy countries that possess the required resources and knowledge to step forward and partner with West African governments to mount a serious, coordinated response as laid out in the World Health Organization’s Ebola response roadmap.”

Siege of Iraqi town broken by CNN: “Iraqi security and volunteer forces have broken the siege of Amerli and have entered the town, retired Gen. Khaled al-Amerli, an Amerli resident and member of its self-defense force, told CNN on Sunday….The breakthrough came after the United States said it carried out airstrikes and dropped humanitarian aid in Amerli to protect an ethnic minority that one official said faced the threat of an ‘imminent massacre.’ Amerli is home to many of Iraq’s Shiite Turkmen.”

Right to Die, or Duty to Die? The Slippery-Slope Argument Against Euthanasia Revisited by Charles Camosy: “When euthanasia is legalized in cultures where the values of autonomy and consumerism hold sway, we soon end up with the kinds of deaths that almost no one wants. We also end up with a culture that almost no one wants – one that pushes vulnerable older persons, not just to the margins of society, but even to the point of dying in order to make space for the young, vigorous and productive.”