In their annual Labor Day statement, the bishops of the United States this year draw a direct correlation between a healthy work life and a healthy family life.
Some people are facing “twin crises,” they write, in which “family-sustaining wages” are harder to come by and family life suffers under anxiety-producing financial pressures.
The bishops note, “We behold signs that have become too familiar in the years following the Great Recession: stagnant wages, industry leaving towns and cities behind, and the sharp decline in the rate of private-sector organized labor, which fell by more than two-thirds between 1973 and 2009 down to 7 percent.
“Millions of families still find themselves living in poverty, unable to work their way out,” the statement says. “Poverty rates among children are alarmingly high, with almost 40 percent of American children spending at least one year in poverty before they turn eighteen. Substance abuse has increased dramatically, as have families that are “broken” or experiencing instability, they say. Taken together, financial troubles and family struggles “can lead to a sense of hopelessness and despair,” the bishops observed.
Answers to these problems can be found in Catholic social teaching, particularly in the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity.
The bishops note, “solidarity recognizes that each of us is connected, and that we all have the responsibility to care for one another, particularly those who are poor and vulnerable. The principle of subsidiarity recognizes that issues facing human beings should be addressed at the appropriate level of society with the capacity to do so, and often in concert with others.”
The local church is adept at living these principles, through Catholic Charities of Louisville, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and many varied ministries of parishes and organizations.
We are good at helping our neighbor as an organization, but society can benefit from an individual — person to person — approach, too. The bishops urge people to look for neighbors without sufficient work and offer them concrete help — food, money, friendship and other forms of love and kindness.
And they point out the particular responsibility of employers.
“If you are an employer, you are called to respect the dignity of your workers through a just wage and working conditions that allow for a secure family life,” the bishops write.
They conclude with a clear call to action: “Simply put, we must advocate for jobs and wages that truly provide a dignified life for individuals and their families, and for working conditions that are safe and allow for a full flourishing of life outside of the workplace.”
They note that labor unions and worker associations remain crucial, although these groups may have imperfections.
People of faith and goodwill, the bishops say, “can be powerful leaven to ensure that these groups (unions), so important in society, continue to keep human dignity at the heart of their efforts.”
The bishops feel sure that as the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity are put into action, and policies that promote stable families are enacted, “we will begin to restore a sense of hope and lasting change that places our economic and political systems at the service of the human person once more.”
For the bishops’ vision to bear fruit, it’s incumbent upon all of us, each person who has an interest in a healthy society, to act.