Put Out into the Deep

A Day to Put a Face on Labor

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

As Labor Day approaches, our thoughts turn not only to a long holiday weekend, but also to the true meaning of Labor Day. It is a day to celebrate the gift of human labor and genius.

St. John Paul II, in his encyclical, “On Human Work” (Laborem Exercens), made it clear that work is the key to the social question. Human labor is an essential key to understanding our social responsibilities. Work is vital to the functioning of our families and helps us build community according to our God-given dignity. Specifically, he wrote, “….man’s life is built up every day from work, from work it derives its specific dignity.”

We cannot forget the historical origin of Labor Day when a coalition of church and union leaders found a way to celebrate the triumph of dignified labor practices in our country. Work, indeed, is key to understanding the social fabric of our society today.

Recently, we have heard that the United States is at full employment with five percent unemployment, which is understood by many economists as full employment, since the turnover rate is about five percent. We also have recently heard that our inflation rate is about two percent, therefore, even the Federal Discount Rate may be increased so that we do not have inflation in our country.

We know, however, that our individual understanding of this is somewhat different. Who are left out? Who are not even looking for work? Unfortunately, the recovery that has taken ever so long in our society from 2008 has left many people underemployed or even not looking for employment. A society which has full employment must make accommodations for those without a high school education, displaced workers, and also new college graduates who are seeking well-paying first jobs so that they can pay back their college tuition loans. As we approach this Labor Day, the situation we find ourselves in is not quite as rosy as some might make it seem. We must look to understand better our labor market, which is a very understudied component in our country.

Today, we also must recognize the globalization that has intertwined nations, where as in the past we were able to go it alone. It is nearly impossible today for any nation in the world to be able to sustain its own economic well being without the interconnection that globalization has brought.

Globalization itself, as the Church has taught, is neither good nor bad. Its effects, however, must be channeled for the well being of all, and not just some countries. When we hear talk about bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States, we must recognize that we cannot manufacture everything for ourselves, nor do we need to do so. We need to have trade agreements with other countries that allow us to manufacture certain items and import others, both of which are economically beneficial to all countries.

We also recognize that we have become a service-based economy, but not many services jobs can be outsourced or sent to other countries. We all are somewhat annoyed by having to speak with someone halfway across the world when we are trying to adjust our credit card bill or some other financial issue. Today, even medical reports, X-rays and MRIs are read halfway across the globe. While I am not in a position to judge the economics or advisability of such outsourcing, we do recognize that misunderstanding our labor market can get us into making decisions that are not in the long run good for our well being. For example, many say that if we eliminate the undocumented workers in our society we would have approximately six million jobs available. Certainly, it is not an easy move in displacing some workers and automatically creating jobs for other workers, who may not even be willing to take those entry-level, and in some cases, higher-level jobs. There are no easy solutions to understanding our labor market.

On Labor Day, we should concentrate more on understanding the value of labor in our society and that a just wage, a living wage, is what we should work for in our country. A living wage is not necessarily pegged to a certain dollar amount per hour. Rather, it should be something that we strive for so that everyone can live in human dignity and take care of their families in prosperity.

As Labor Day approaches, we continually put out into the deep waters of understanding our complex economic and labor system. The more clarity and the more understanding we bring to the labor market, the better decisions we will make for the future of our Nation.

Join me this weekend in praying not only for a safe time of leisure, but also for a time of discernment for our country that we can make good decisions regarding the future well being of our society.

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Labor Day Message Links Jobs to Family