Putting Workers at the Center of Economic Policy (Part 1)

Part one in a three-part Labor Day series.

Will Work For FoodAs Labor Day approaches, the U.S. continues to struggle with an economy that fails to provide enough decent jobs. Millions of Americans live in poverty or remain unemployed, underemployed, or uninsured. This stands out as a shameful economic and moral failure for the U.S. This Labor Day, both faith-based communities and labor organizations are calling for a renewed solidarity with the working poor and the unemployed, and seeking economic renewal that places working people – and their families – at the center of American economic life.

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently issued a statement on the central importance of the rights and dignity of working people in our economic policy, and reaffirmed the undeniable link between joblessness and poverty is. He underscored his points by highlighting the following quote from Pope Benedict:

In many cases, poverty results from a violation of the dignity of human work, either because work opportunities are limited (through unemployment or underemployment), or “because a low value is put on work and the rights that flow from it, especially the right to a just wage and to the personal security of the worker and his or her family” (Caritas in Veritate, no. 63).

The Weak Economy Leaves Millions Without Decent and Adequate Work

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 12 million workers are currently seeking work but cannot find a job; millions more have simply given up looking for employment. Millions are underemployed, meaning that they want to work full time but are prevented from doing so by the lack of available jobs. More than 10 million families make up the “working poor”: despite their consistent hard work, they are not paid enough to meet basic needs. All total, over 46 million people live in poverty in this country, including at least 16 million children.

The debate over reducing the unsustainable federal deficit is certainly understandable. Yet in current political campaigns, public officials seem to focus exclusively on abstractions like “the economy,” while saying little about the real human costs and moral imperative to address chronic poverty and improve the lives of America’s working poor. The hard economic conditions have taken a tremendous toll on millions of families, who live in a state of endless anxiety and uncertainty as the cost of living rises and wages remain frozen or fall. Many are forced to work a second or third job, which puts additional strain on their children. These individuals are not abstractions: they are our neighbors, friends, brothers, sisters, cousins, mothers and fathers — possibly our own children.

Our faltering economy also increases the risk of workers being be exploited or mistreated in other ways. Many employees, for example, struggle to attain fair wages, a safe and just workplace, and a voice in our economic policy, yet they are unable to buy the very products they make, sleep in the houses or hotels they clean, or eat the food they harvest, cook, or serve. Immigrants and immigrant families are particularly vulnerable, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform.

Yet there is also help available to these struggling workers, immigrants, and other poor and vulnerable Americans. As Bishop Stephen E. Blaire wrote in his statement on the human costs of our failed economic policy:

The Catholic bishops of the United States, through our Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), provide help and hope to exploited and mistreated working people. MRS helps workers who have fled their home countries with the promise of employment, only to find themselves forced to work long hours in dangerous jobs. CCHD supports groups throughout the country that empower working people to raise their voices and regain wages that have been taken from them, demand fair treatment, and seek greater economic opportunity. The broken economy also places additional strain on other Catholic organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, that struggle to fulfill our Gospel mandate in the face of increased demand and fewer resources.

The exploitation of working people, whether subtle or obvious, injures their humanity and denies their inherent dignity. Exploited and mistreated workers require our care and solidarity. An economy that allows this exploitation and abuse demands our attention and action. As the bishops point out in the Catholic Framework for Economic Life, “By our choices, initiative, creativity, and investment, we enhance or diminish economic opportunity, community life, and social justice.” We should ask: How do we contribute to forces that threaten the human dignity of vulnerable workers? How can our choices in economic and public life enhance their lives, pursue economic justice, and promote opportunity?

Please check back next week for part 2 of “Putting Workers at the Center of Economic Policy”

The employment attorneys at Emery Reddy are committed advocates of workers employed in both small and large companies. If you have experienced illegal employment practices—discrimination, wrongful termination, a wage dispute, or some other issue involving FMLA or ADA—we will defend your rights and help you receive the maximum compensation allowed under Washington law. Our workers compensation team and Third Party Claim Attorneys also have extensive experience negotiating with the department of Labor and Industries, and can help with denied L&I claims, unlawful practices during theindependent medical examination, and other difficulties that workers face in navigating Washington L&I.  Contact us today for help with your case.


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