In anticipation of Labor Day, Bishop William Murphy has lamented joblessness as a “pervasive” economic failure which deprives workers of a key source of self-support and fulfillment. He called for a new “social contract” to honor work, to provide more jobs, to strengthen families and to secure just wages for workers.
The Bishop of Rockville Centre, New York, Murphy chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. The bishop issued the statement in his role as committee chair.
“Many millions are jobless or have a family member or friend who is among the fifteen million unemployed or the additional eleven million workers who only can find part time work,” Bishop Murphy commented. “Far too many have been unemployed for months, some even years. This is a pervasive failure of our economy today.”
The bishop called work “one of the major avenues for self-expression and self-fulfillment,” noting how work allows us “to care for ourselves and those we love and to contribute to the wider society.”
Bishop Murphy then quoted Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” which highlighted how unemployment and prolonged dependence on public or private assistance “undermines the freedom and creativity of the person and his family and social relationships, causing great psychological and spiritual suffering.”
Previous teachers of Catholic social thought are also relevant to the contemporary situation, Bishop Murphy explained.
For instance, Pope Leo XIII “insisted on the value and dignity of the worker as a human being endowed with rights and responsibilities. He commended free association or unions as legitimate and he insisted on a family wage that corresponded to the needs of the worker and family.”
Bishop Murphy also underscored that the past year has been “difficult” for many workers. He pointed to the “heart-rending” stories of workers who died on the job, such as the 29 men who died in a West Virginia mine collapse or the 11 men who died when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.
Along with the economic effects of the Gulf oil spill, the country is continuing to change. “America is undergoing a rare economic transformation, shedding jobs and testing safety nets as the nation searches for new ways to govern and grow our economy,” said Bishop Murphy.
He added that workers need a new “social contract” and must have “a real voice and effective protections in economic life.” The bishop said that the rewards and security offered to workers do not reflect “the global economy.”
“A new social contract, which begins by honoring work and workers, must be forged that ultimately focuses on the common good of the entire human family,” the bishop continued.
“The market, the state, and civil society, unions and employers all have roles to play and they must be exercised in creative and fruitful interrelationships. Private action and public policies that strengthen families and reduce poverty are needed.”
Bishop Murphy said new jobs with “just wages and benefits” must be created so that all workers can “express their dignity through the dignity of work” and can fulfill their vocation to be “co-creators” with God.