The pandemic’s tragic impact on human life in the United States is told daily by the mounting numbers of dead Americans. We’re above 651,000 now and positive cases are beyond 40 million as the coronavirus spreads through communities.
Among the mourners are 43,000 minor children who have lost a parent to the virus, thus far.
Behind this staggering loss, the virus has had a domino effect on our daily lives. For example, it has caused shortages and delays that have slowed production of all sorts of items. Here in Louisville, Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant has had to scale back production, affecting the incomes of local families.
At the same time, labor shortages seem to plague nearly every industry.
We are a nation in crisis.
In this year’s Labor Day statement, issued Sept. 6, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops acknowledged the situation in the United States today and said it’s time to heed the call of Pope Francis to imagine a better economy and a more fraternal world:
“In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis shares a vision for a post-COVID world that aspires to a global fraternity which leaves no one at the margins of society. He decries the reality that women are not yet recognized as having the same dignity as men, that racism shamefully continues, and that those who are poor, disabled, unborn, or elderly are often considered dispensable,” writes Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
“Pope Francis reflected that such a universal fraternity can only be accomplished when our social and economic systems stop producing victims. Rejecting a neoliberal vision, Francis writes that markets cannot solve societal problems on their own; therefore, proactive policies centered on the common good must be created,” the statement said.
“It is our task not only to reflect on the present ills of our economy, but also to build consensus around human dignity and the common good, the bedrocks of Catholic social teaching, and to answer the Pope’s call to propose new and creative economic responses to human need.”
The Labor Day statement noted that the pandemic has hit women, communities of color and low-wage earners particularly hard.
“Women accounted for more than half of the job losses during the first seven months of recession, even though they make up less than half of the workforce,” the statement noted.
Last month, the U.S. bishops wrote to U.S. lawmakers in support of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The act requires employers with 15 or more employees to make “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant women and nursing mothers, such as giving them lighter duties in later stages of pregnancy and protecting them from retaliation.
The measure passed the House in May and passed a Senate committee Aug. 3.
The bishops said in the letter, “There is ample evidence that the current legal landscape does not adequately protect pregnant workers.”
The letter also quoted St. John Paul II, who wrote, “It is a fact that in many societies women work in nearly every sector of life. But it is fitting that they should be able to fulfill their tasks in accordance with their own nature, without being discriminated against and without being excluded from jobs for which they are capable, but also without lack of respect for their family aspirations and for their specific role in contributing, together with men, to the good of society.”
Passage of this act will be a step toward Pope Francis’ vision of a more fraternal world.
The bishops, in their statement, also listed steps that would help fulfill this vision: nutrition programs, an eviction moratorium, safety measures for the incarcerated, access to healthcare, job creation and organized labor for the protection of worker rights.
But, as the bishops point out in their statement, until each of us turns our hearts to the poor and those on the margins, any effort will be insufficient:
“St. James tells us that we become judges with evil designs when we remain distant from the poor (James 2: 1-5). … Let us accept together the challenge of reemerging from this crisis with an economy that works for all of God’s children.”