Today, we observe Labor Day. This national holiday is “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”[i]
In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), we have long supported the rights of workers to organize, to share in workplace decisions and productivity growth, to seek protections from dangerous working conditions, and to gain time and benefits to enable full family life.[ii] Today we give thanks for workers and for vocation, which is a gift from God.
But the state of today’s economy does not serve all workers. According to a new paper published by the Economic Policy Institute:
“Comparing the first half of 2014 with the first half of 2007 (the last period of reasonable labor market health before the Great Recession), hourly wages for the vast majority of American workers have been flat or falling. And even since 1979, the vast majority of American workers have seen their hourly wages stagnate or decline—even though decades of consistent gains in economy-wide productivity have provided ample room for wage growth.
“The poor performance of American workers’ wages in recent decades—particularly their failure to grow at anywhere near the pace of overall productivity—is the country’s central economic challenge. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a more important economic development in recent decades. It is at the root of the large rise in overall income inequality that has attracted so much attention in recent years. A range of other economic challenges—reducing poverty, increasing mobility, and spurring a more complete recovery from the Great Recession—also rely largely on boosting hourly wage growth for the vast majority.[iii]
|J. Herbert Nelson walks with Clergy Partners and Workers.|
We must take proactive steps to improve jobs and wages, and to reduce inequality in this nation. This year, the Office of Public Witness has been working closely with partners at Interfaith Worker Justice and Good Jobs Nation. At a July 29 joint action of striking workers and religious leaders, Director for Public Witness, J. Herbert Nelson said,
“In the church, we believe in the inherent dignity of work and that God has called each of us to a vocation. Workers have a right to be compensated for their work with a fair wage that provides a living. One of the best ways to improve jobs is to give workers the leverage to organize for better pay, working conditions, and benefits. We have allowed greed to perpetuate a class of working poor in this country, even though there is easily enough for everyone to have what we each need. Worker pay has stagnated while productivity and wealth have skyrocketed. This is our shared failure and it is a sin.[iv]
There are many steps we must take to reverse the widening economic divide in our country, but one of the first could be to raise the minimum wage above the poverty level.
Write to your members of Congress and tell them to raise the minimum wage.
Read J. Herbert Nelson’s reflection on Work, Worth and Value,[v] published this summer shortly after his arrest in an act of solidarity and nonviolent civil disobedience. Read more about the Office of Public Witness’ work on jobs and labor justice on our blog.
Celebrate Labor Day with us by speaking out for decent jobs and good wages. A job should keep you out of poverty, not trap you in it.
[iii] “Why America’s Workers Need Faster Wage Growth—And What We Can Do About It,” by Elise Gould; Economic Policy Institute. Aug. 27, 2014. http://www.epi.org/publication/why-americas-workers-need-faster-wage-growth
[iv] “Federal Jobs Lead the Marketplace,” Office of Public Witness blog; July 29, 2014; http://officeofpublicwitness.blogspot.com/2014/07/federal-jobs-lead-marketplace.html
[v] “Work, Worth and Value: a Reflection on Work by J. Herbert Nelson,” Advocacy as Discipleship, a publication of the Office of Public Witness; Office of Public Witness blog; July 30, 2014; http://officeofpublicwitness.blogspot.com/2014/07/work-worth-and-value.html