The growing disparity in the income of U.S. workers is the focus of the 2013 Labor Day Statement of Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the US bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
In the statement, dated Sept. 2, Bishop Blaire said that most people want to live in a more equal society that provides opportunities for everyone. "The current imbalances do not have to be inevitable," Bishop Blaire wrote. "We must be bold in promoting a just economy that reduces inequality by creating jobs that pay a living wage and share with workers some profits of the company, as well as ensuring a strong safety net for jobless workers and their families and those who are incapable of work."
Bishop Blaire echoed the words of Pope Francis, that "work is fundamental to the dignity of a person…. it gives us the ability to maintain oneself, one's family, to contribute to the growth of one's own nation." Bishop Blaire said millions of workers are "denied this honor and respect as a result of unemployment, underemployment, unjust wages, wage theft, abuse or exploitation."
Even amid a modest economic recovery, he said, "Over four million people have been jobless for over six months, and that does not include the millions more who have simply lost hope; for every available job, there are as many as five unemployed and underemployed people actively vying for it. This gap pushes wages down – half of the jobs in this country pay less than $27,000. Over 46 million people live in poverty, 16 million of them children," he wrote.
He noted that individuals, the Church, businesses, government and community organizations all share the responsibility to create jobs that allow workers to support themselves and their families.
"Ethical and moral business leaders know that it is wrong to chase profits and success at the expense of workers' dignity," he wrote. "They know they have a vocation to build the kind of solidarity that honors the worker and the least among us. They remember that the economy is 'for people.'"
Bishop Blaire cited the importance of unions in helping workers participate in company decisions that affect them and noted that the rise in income inequality has paralleled the decline of unions in the United States. He urged unions to continually improve themselves and focus on issues including "raising the minimum wage, stopping wage theft," and "standing up for safe and healthy working conditions."
Bishop Blaire also voiced support for immigrants, calling for policies that "bring immigrant workers out of the shadows to a legal status and offer them a just and fair path to citizenship, so that their human rights are protected and the wages for all workers rise."
The 2013 Labor Day Statement is available online in English and Spanish at:www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/labor-employment/labor-day-archives.cfm