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US: Bishops on Labor Day, “a just wage” should give “a standard of living in keeping with the dignity of the human person”

(from New York) “The struggle of working people, of the poor, is not a social or political question. No! It is the Gospel, pure and simple”. The US Bishops chose Pope Francis’ words to mark Labor Day, which is celebrated today in the US. The reflection of the Bishops’ Conference focuses on a just wage that gives “the worker and his family a standard of living in keeping with the dignity of the human person”. Bishop Frank J. Dewane, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, stresses that although data issued by national statistical offices show economic progress, record levels of production and growth, and a decline in unemployment and poverty in recent years, the figures do not tell “the whole story” for they fail to take into account those who “work hard but struggle to make ends meet”. Mgr. Dewane warns against the illusion of easy success for one in three persons in the US today are still living on a family income below 200% of the federal poverty line, which is set at about $25,000 for a family of four. This means that even if it looks like households have technically escaped poverty, they nevertheless face significant difficulties in meeting basic needs. This is also confirmed in the latest annual report by the Federal Reserve which shows that four in ten adults in the US cannot cover a $400 emergency expense, or rely on borrowing or sell something to do so.

“Workers at the lower end of the income spectrum – Mgr. Dewane continues – have seen their wages stagnate or even decrease over the last decade”. Another alarming trend in the country is the continuing disparities in median incomes between different racial and ethnic groups and between women and men. The bishop explains that in 2016, the median household income of non-Hispanic whites was $25,500 more than that of blacks, and the real median earnings of women were $10,000 lower than men’s. In other words, no examination of economic data “can exclude consideration of how discrimination based on race and sex impacts the just distribution of wages”. The bishops, in line with the Church’s traditional teaching, uphold that the economy “is not meant solely to multiply goods produced and increase profit or power”; it must “serve people, not the other way around”. Finally, they stress, work “is a form of participating in God’s creation”; “if the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected, including the right to decent and fair wages”.

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