WASHINGTON — Today’s “economic and political forces have led to increasingly lowered economic prospects for Americans without access to higher education, which is having a direct impact on family health and stability,” said Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami.
He made the comments as the author of this year’s Labor Day statement from the U.S. bishops.
Linking the decline in good jobs to family woes, Wenski said, “Over half of parents between the ages of 26 and 31 now have children outside of a marriage, and research shows a major factor is the lack of middle-skill jobs — careers by which someone can sustain a family above the poverty line without a college degree — in regions with high income inequality.”
The statement, dated Sept. 5, Labor Day, was released Aug. 22. Wenski is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
“Divorce rates and the rate of single-parent households break down along similar educational and economic lines,” he continued.
“Financial concerns and breakdowns in family life can lead to a sense of hopelessness and despair. The Rust Belt region now appears to have the highest concentration in the nation of drug-related deaths, including from overdoses of heroin and prescription drugs.”
Wenski quoted from Pope Francis’ address to Congress during the pope’s U.S. visit last September: “I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them.”
The pope added, “We live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.”
Wenski said, “When our leaders ought to be calling us toward a vision of the common good that lifts the human spirit and seeks to soothe our tendencies toward fear, we find our insecurities exploited as a means to further partisan agendas.”
“Our leaders must never use anxiety as a means to manipulate persons in desperate situations, or to pit one group of persons against another for political gain.”
In touting the “sanctity of work,” Wenski said, “Dignified work is at the heart of our efforts because we draw insight into who we are as human beings from it.” St, John Paul II, in his encyclical “Laborem Exercens” (“On Human Work”), “reminded us that human labor is an essential key to understanding our social relationships, vital to family formation and the building up of community according to our God-given dignity,” the archbishop added.
“As we engage with our neighbors and our communities, we quickly find ways to deepen solidarity in a broader way, and to act on the structures and policies that impact meaningful work and family stability,” Wenski said.
“Simply put, we must advocate for jobs and wages that truly provide a dignified life for individuals and their families, and for working conditions that are safe and allow for a full flourishing of life outside of the workplace,” he added.
“Unions and worker associations, while imperfect, remain an essential part of the effort, and people of faith and goodwill can be powerful leaven to ensure that these groups, so important in society, continue to keep human dignity at the heart of their efforts,” he wrote.
And “if you are an employer, you are called to respect the dignity of your workers through a just wage and working conditions that allow for a secure family life,” Wenski said.
“With time, we will begin to restore a sense of hope and lasting change that places our economic and political systems at the service of the human person once more.”
The full text of the U.S. bishops’ Labor Day statement is available in English and Spanish.