By HOWARD D. BOYD
The dignity of work and worker rights are among the principles of Catholic social teaching. In furtherance of creation, God trusted us to work to make our world a better place. As such, work is more than a way to make a living. It is also a form of continuing participation in God’s creation.
Our work also makes us better people. It fulfills us and gives us purpose. Accordingly, our societies are made better when worker rights are respected and the fruits of labor are appreciated.
Says St. John Paul II, “The obligation to earn one’s bread by the sweat of one’s brow also presumes the right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied, in which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of employment, cannot be justified from an ethical point of view, nor can that society attain social peace. In many cases, poverty results from a violation of the dignity of human work, either because work opportunities are limited (through unemployment or underemployment), or because a low value is put on work and the rights that flow from it, especially the right to a just wage and to the personal security of the worker and his or her family.”
Over the course of the last three decades, wages in the service sector of economies have not kept pace with the rising cost of living. This is why we have so many working poor people. Yes, most of our poor are working, but in low wage jobs that are less than full-time.
As we approach Labor Day, let us consider ways we can help the poor become more financially independent. One way is to advocate on behalf of those who don’t seem to have a voice at work or in society. We can reach out to both employers and our governmental representatives to encourage their adoption of “living wages” and more full-time working hours. In the old days, labor and management mostly worked things out through collective bargaining agreements. They should do it again and we should support such efforts.
Another step we should take is addressing the underlying causes of poverty. In my opinion, the number one cause of poverty is lack of education. Without a post-secondary education or without certification or a license in a technical field, typical wages in service jobs are woefully inadequate. In southern Delaware our Salt & Light for Social Justice Committee at St. Ann Parish established the Southern Delaware Education Foundation. This nonprofit organization helps pay a portion of an aspiring student’s tuition in studies leading to a technical certification or license in Delaware. If the student meets our criteria and agrees to pay 25 percent of costs, we will pick up 75 percent. People say we are in the “poverty prevention business.” We have helped 12 students thus far, about one every other month since our inception. If you are interested in our work, I encourage you to check out our website at https://sdefcares.org
May God bless those who serve us through their labor.
Howard Boyd is president of the Southern Delaware Education Foundation.