For many of us, Labor Day marks the end of summer. Vacations have come and gone, and school children begin a new school year. Historically, however, Labor Day – established in 1894 – was meant to celebrate the economic and social contributions of workers and their families, and to honor the dignity of work.
“Work,’’ Pope Francis recently stated, “is fundamental to the dignity of a person…it gives one the ability to maintain oneself, one’s family, to contribute to the growth of one’s own nation.”
Recent years haven’t been good economically to families in America. Despite indicators of some modest recovery, the economy has still not improved the standard of living for many. Millions remain unemployed or underemployed, and many have given up their search for work. More than half the jobs in America pay less than $27,000 per year, and more than 46 million people live in poverty despite having a job. The economy is simply not creating enough jobs to allow workers to provide for themselves or their families, creating a dangerously wide gap of economic inequality in America.
Like Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI previously warned of the dangers of this economic inequality in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, saying, “The dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require, particularly today, that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive and morally unacceptable manner, and that we continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone….”
In their Labor Day statement, the U.S. Bishops remind us that as we celebrate summer’s end with friends and family, we should also reflect on the gift of labor, and how we can work to advance the dignity and rights of workers. How can we promote opportunities for growth and development and support “private enterprises that…create decent jobs, contribute to the common good, and pay just wages?” How do we advocate for an adequate safety net for jobless workers and their families and those who cannot work? Finally, the Bishops urge us this Labor Day to “support immigration 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.”
This Labor Day, let’s renew our commitment to promote the dignity of the human person by supporting work that is honorable, pays just wages, and recognizes the God-given dignity of the working person.