Labor Day means ‘radical solidarity’ with working families, U.S. bishops say

Worker Labor Day Credit sculpies   Shutterstock CNA Shutterstock.

Economic policy and community advocacy must prioritize working families as part of the Christian mission to bring good news to the poor, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in its statement for Labor Day 2023.

“We are called to join Jesus in his ministry to bring glad tidings to the poor. We must do more to support families,” the bishops said in their statement, released Thursday ahead of the Sept. 4 observance.

The statement, titled “Radical Solidarity with Working Families,” was signed by Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. It reflects on the state of the economy, the economic needs of Americans, recent policy achievements, and efforts to further support workers and their families.

Despite signs of improvement in the economy, inflation has hurt families’ ability to save, the bishops’ statement said. Food, housing, and health care now all cost more, and 37% of Americans cannot afford an unexpected $400 expense.

“The purpose of the economy is to enable families to thrive,” the bishops said. They cited the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which emphasizes the need for all sectors of society to promote employment policies that “do not penalize but rather support the family nucleus.”

The Labor Day statement noted the end of the Roe v. Wade pro-abortion rights Supreme Court precedent last year and cited the bishops’ response urging “radical solidarity with mothers, children, and families.” This kind of solidarity must promote “an authentically life-affirming society that truly prioritizes the well-being of families and generously welcomes new life.” The statement cited the USCCB’s long history of backing social safety net programs for affordable food, housing, and medical care and its support for just wages, safe working conditions, and organized labor.

The U.S. bishops called on Congress to strengthen the Child Tax Credit, describing this policy as “a powerful pro-family and anti-poverty program” that “currently excludes too many children in need.” The tax credit should become fully refundable to maximize its impact on low-income families. The tax credit must apply to all families with U.S. citizen children, regardless of parents’ immigration status. It should be available for the year before a child is born, and it should not be paid for through cuts to programs that serve people in need, the bishops said.

In addition, the bishops advocated national, well-crafted paid family leave policies. They called for better access to affordable, quality child care and pre-kindergarten as well as support for families who care for children at home.

“Child care is one of the biggest expenses in many families’ budgets, and it is causing many families to have fewer children than they would like. At the same time, the child care sector itself is plagued with low wages for workers, making it difficult for them to meet the needs of their own families,” the bishops said.

Their statement also cited successes in Congress, including the extension of postpartum Medicaid coverage for a year after birth and the passage of legislation requiring better workplace accommodations for nursing mothers.

“While these are promising steps, there remains much to be done to advance policies that help women, families, and children. The USCCB continues to urge bipartisan solutions on these issues,” the Labor Day statement said.

Among the various USCCB projects helping those in need, the Labor Day statement noted the Catholic Campaign for Human Development’s (CCHD) efforts to help communities, especially struggling families and people in poverty, to organize and address problems. CCHD-funded organizations have helped support well-paying jobs at worker-owned businesses that deliver in-home care to the elderly and the disabled.

In Washington state, CCHD has supported Washington Home Care Cooperatives, which helps provide well-paid home care workers to the elderly and the disabled. In Colorado, CCHD grantee Mountain Voices Project IAF secured child care for low-income families who work in expensive mountain resort towns. A Salt Lake City group that CCHD supports, Powerful Moms Who Care, works to provide affordable housing and child care.

The Labor Day statement also emphasized the importance of labor unions.

“Unions should continue to be supported in their work that supports healthy, thriving families, especially those who are most in need, and encouraged in maintaining and increasing their focus on performing that critical role,” the bishops said. They cited the pope’s December 2022 remarks to managers and delegates of the Italian General Confederation of Labor. The pontiff said unions must be “a voice for the voiceless.” He praised their importance in educating workers and promoting fraternity, adding: “There are no free workers without trade unions.”

“Each of us is called to follow the Lord and bring glad tidings to the poor,” the U.S. bishops’ statement concluded. “Let us pray and act towards this end, always listening to the Lord who fulfills glad tidings in our hearing his word each day.”

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