The following comes from the Labor Day Statement 2016 of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, written by Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami:
This Labor Day, we draw our attention to our sisters and brothers who face twin crises—deep trials in both the world of work and the state of the family.
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%. Millions of families still find themselves living in poverty, unable to work their way out. 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. Although this reality is felt nation-wide, this year new research has emerged showing the acute pain of middle and rural America in the wake of the departure of industry. Once the center of labor and the promise of family-sustaining wages, research shows these communities collapsing today, substance abuse on the rise, and an increase in the number of broken families.
When we begin to look for answers to these realities, we gain less confidence from many of our political leaders these days. Instead of dialogue and constructive solutions that bring people together, we see increasing efforts to divide as a means to gain support. But more divisions are never the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:19-21). When our leaders ought to be calling us toward a vision of the common good that lifts the human spirit and seeks to soothe our tendencies toward fear, we find our insecurities exploited as a means to further partisan agendas. Our leaders must never use anxiety as a means to manipulate persons in desperate situations, or to pit one group of persons against another for political gain. For our dynamics to change, we must replace fear with a fuller vision that can be powerfully supported by our faith.
The first response is local, to look to our neighbors in need, our brothers and sisters who may be without sufficient work for their families, and offer them help. That help may take the form of food, money, counsel, friendship, spiritual support or other forms of love and kindness. We ought to expect this kind of engagement from Christians in the midst of our difficulties, and we should pray to find ways to provide it as members of the Church. 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.
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. Unions and worker associations, while imperfect, remain an essential part of the effort, and people of faith and goodwill can be powerful leaven to ensure that these groups, so important in society, continue to keep human dignity at the heart of their efforts.
As the fruits of solidarity and our care for one another increase, as we begin to make real impacts toward policies that help individuals begin stable families and live in accord with their dignity, the tired paradigm that fuels our national politics will be challenged. As Pope Francis has written “[e]very economic and political theory or action must set about providing each inhabitant of the planet with the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom, with the possibility of supporting a family, educating children, praising God and developing one’s own human potential.” With time, 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.