The U.S. bishops' point man on domestic justice issues has called for an economic renewal that places “working people and their families at the center of economic life.”
“Everyone and every institution has a role to play in building a more just economy,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., who chairs the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
He recalled the words of Blessed Pope John Paul II that both “society and the State must ensure wage levels adequate for the maintenance of the worker and his family.”
In his 2012 Labor Day statement, the bishop reflected on the “moral and human dimensions” of “a broken economy that is not producing enough decent jobs.”
He observed that more than 46 million people in the U.S. live in poverty, and more than 16 million children grow up in poverty.
In addition, he noted, there are more than 12 million people looking for work but unable to find it, “and millions more have actually given up seeking employment.”
Millions of other individuals are “underemployed,” wishing to work full time but unable to find a job that allows them to do so, he added, while over 10 million families are “working poor,” unable to meet their basic needs despite being employed.
These numbers show “a serious economic and moral failure for our nation,” Bishop Blaire said. He called for the faithful to show solidarity to those who are struggling, in order to help them meet basic needs.
At the same time, he said, there is a need for “national economic renewal,” keeping in mind the dignity of human work while building “an economy that serves the person rather than the other way around.”
“Work is more than a paycheck,” the bishop explained, “it helps raise our families, develop our potential, share in God's creation, and contribute to the common good.”
The current broken economy brings concrete harm to workers and families, he warned, adding that it also increases the danger of workers being exploited, especially vulnerable immigrant families.
The Church works to help laborers who have been mistreated, showing them care and solidarity, he said. But such abuses also demand “our attention and action,” calling us to look at the effects of our economic choices and whether they contribute to the denial of the inherent human dignity of working people.
The necessary economic renewal will require the cooperation of “business, religious, labor, and civic organizations,” Bishop Blaire said.
He explained that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is currently “developing a pastoral reflection on work, poverty, and a broken economy,” which will draw from Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclicals and will encourage solidary, prayer, discussion and action.
Bishop Blaire also highlighted the “unique and essential responsibility” of unions and other worker associations in achieving effective economic renewal.
Unions show the Catholic principle of solidarity “by bringing workers together to speak and act collectively to protect their rights and pursue the common good,” he said. They also demonstrate subsidiarity by “forming associations of workers to have a voice, articulate their needs, and bargain and negotiate with the large economic institutions and structures of government.”
Unfortunately, he acknowledged, unions – like other intuitions – sometimes fall short of their responsibility, pursuing narrow self-interests rather than the common good and causing polarization and partisanship.
However, rather than negating Church teaching on unions, these shortcomings demand “renewed focus” and public discussion on how to defend the interests of workers, the bishop explained.
“Public officials rightfully debate the need to reduce unsustainable federal deficits and debt,” he said, adding that candidates should offer specific steps to “resist and overcome poverty” in the nation.
Reflecting on the “urgent and compelling needs” of many workers and their families this Labor Day, Bishop Blaire offered a special prayer for “all workers, especially those without a job struggling to live in dignity.”
“May God guide our nation in creating a more just economy that truly honors the dignity of work and the rights of workers,” he said.