Family wage hits center stage

January 29, 2014, 2:50 pm | Posted by

Last fall I had the honor of praying in front of the White House with federal contract workers affiliated with Good Jobs Nation who were striking for a living wage. After a strong campaign of similar demonstrations, President Obama confirmed last night that he got the message.

In his State of the Union address, the president said he would require that all government contract workers be paid at least $10.10, and he reiterated the need for all American workers to paid at least that much.

The economic case for raising the minimum wage is strong, and the moral case is even stronger. Scripture is replete with condemnations of oppressing workers, and make no mistake, paying someone who works full time a wage that can’t cover a family’s basic necessities is oppressive.

The core values question here is whether we accept the notion that some workers must be destined for poverty in order for our economy to function well. The clear answer is no. As Pope Francis said, “Money must serve, not rule!”

Increasing the minimum wage faces fierce opposition among Tea Party extremists in Congress — even though the vast majority of Americans favor raising it.

So it’s inspiring to see faith leaders from in states across the country calling for a minimum wage that’s a family wage. Faith in Public Life is humbled to be working side by side with clergy leaders and groups like Interfaith Worker Justice and PICO National Network to help raise a clear moral voice for just wages that strengthen family bonds.

In 1968, the federal minimum wage was worth the equivalent of more than $10 today. Getting it back to that level isn’t asking for a miracle, and it’s a crucial step toward building an economy that is truly pro-family.

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Guest Post: January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month

January 23, 2014, 4:21 pm | Posted by

 

Our friends at the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas are highlighting the moral issue of human trafficking this month. 

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Human Trafficking is defined as “modern day slavery” because it controls a person through force, fraud or coercion—physical or psychological—to exploit the person for forced labor, sexual exploitation, or both. Women, children and men are all affected by this crime. By federal law any minor exploited by prostitution or pornography is considered trafficked. Human Trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry and profits are estimated at more than $32 billion annually. It is illegal in every country in the world. The demand must be stopped!

It is estimated that annually 27 million persons are trafficked globally: 80% are women; 15% are children; and 5% are men. In the U.S. 82% of the incidents involved sex trafficking, of these 98% are women & girls. Ninety-five percent of the victims experienced physical or sexual violence during trafficking and the majority of trafficking victims are between 18 and 24 years of age. In the U.S. alone, 100,000 U.S. children are commercially sexually exploited every year and the number may be as high as 300,000. The Internet is a major source for predators’ hunting, recruitment and trapping unsuspecting and/or innocent victims.

Where are the victims of Human Trafficking? They can be found in sweatshops, forced prostitution, domestic servitude, restaurants, agriculture, construction, and in hotel/motel cleaning services to name a few. During major sporting events such as the Super Bowl or World Cup, ads for and engagement of prostituted escorts significantly increase.

Who might be a victim?
• Someone employed in a hotel or restaurant you patronize
• A neighbor’s housekeeper or nanny
• A teenage girl “working the street”
• Residents of an apartment who are all young men working odd hours and never going out otherwise or young women who come and go in shifts during the night

What should one do if you suspect a person may be a victim of trafficking? Act on your suspicions and/or intuitions that something just “isn’t right” in a particular situation – call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s 24/7 Hotline at 1-888-3737-888 (they can also provide information on resources in your local area), your local law enforcement or the U.S. Department of Justice Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-428-7581. Reporting your concerns could save a life!

You can also join with other individuals and organizations addressing this issue as the Sisters of Mercy have. Together, they are working to raise awareness of the issue, providing direct services to victims and advocating for policy change and stronger legislation to abolish this criminal industry.

To learn more about human trafficking and how you can become involved, contact Sister Jeanne Christensen, RSM, Justice Advocate for Human Trafficking at jchristensen@mercywmw.org.

 

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Building a movement

January 15, 2014, 2:09 pm | Posted by

One of the central struggles in American politics right now is between a pro-family justice movement rooted in faith and a right-wing campaign to punish the poor and consolidate as much power in as few hands as possible.

Last year, this conflict manifested most clearly in North Carolina, where the Moral Mondays Forward Together movement brought thousands of people of faith to the state capitol to resist a vast array of unpopular, immoral policies rammed through the Republican-controlled legislature. Week after week, clergy and lay leaders marched, spoke out and were arrested in acts of civil disobedience. Meanwhile, lawmakers’ approval ratings plummeted.

What happens in these state capitols matters for all of us. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Atlanta isn’t just the capital of the South, it’s my hometown and the cradle of the civil rights movement. Seeing a diverse, clergy-led movement spring up there now is inspiring beyond words – not only because of its symbolic significance, but also because it portends a future when justice once again rolls down like a mighty stream.

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The 2014 values debate begins

January 9, 2014, 11:52 am | Posted by

In an opening salvo of the coming values debate over inequality, Sen. Marco Rubio made waves this week by with a much-anticipated speech inaccurately declaring the War on Poverty a failure and blaming “big government” for the growth of poverty and inequality.

His remarks painted a compassionate veneer on the failed conservative agenda of undermining the federal government’s support for struggling Americans, and inaccurately denied that anti-poverty policies lift millions of Americans out of poverty every year.

And just two days ago, Rubio voted against extending unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans — at a time when there are three job-seekers for every one job opening. He’s also spoken out against minimum wage increases, which will come up for a Senate vote soon. Compassionate rhetoric doesn’t mean a thing if you turn your back on your neighbor when she’s been laid off or can’t feed her children. 

Faith leaders can shape the coming debate over poverty and inequality. When Paul Ryan said in 2012 that his plan to slash basic safety net protections for the poorest Americans was consistent with his Catholic faith, it was nuns and theologians who called him on it. In 2014, we won’t let  politicians get away with talking the talk about compassion while voting for cruel and immoral policies.

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In memory of Thomas P. Melady

January 7, 2014, 1:09 pm | Posted by

Former Vatican Ambassador Thomas P. Melady died yesterday at the age of 86. His passing is a significant loss for the Catholic community in Washington and anyone who cares about public service. Tom was a true gentleman who believed in civility, building bridges across ideological divides and finding common ground with Catholic progressives like myself. A moderate Republican from Connecticut, he served his country and the Catholic Church by carrying himself with a gentle dignity that is all too rare in a city of strutting partisan peacocks.

While almost 50 years separated us, Tom became a friend because of our love for the Catholic Church and the conviction that serving the common good means a lot more than whether you voted for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. At times the politics of the Catholic Church can feel even more polarized and nasty than the battles waged on cable news and Capitol Hill, but Tom never let labels or blind partisanship stop him from reaching out to progressives. He even joked with me a few times that he was willing to take heat from his friends on the right for his eagerness to make common cause with more liberal Catholics.

Tom was a man of integrity and clear moral vision. He spoke up as a pro-life Catholic who opposed abortion but also called the scourge of gun violence a sanctity-of-life issue. While some conservatives and a vocal minority of bishops argue pro-choice Catholic elected officials should be denied Holy Communion, Tom rejected turning a sacrament into a political bludgeon. He joined other Christian leaders to denounce Uganda’s shameful efforts to dehumanize gays and lesbians. He spoke out for comprehensive immigration reform. He challenged the powerful and all of us not to forget the growing ranks of the poor and hungry. Tom knew that politics could be a noble calling, not simply a blood sport for the self-serving and ambitious.

I will miss his stories over lunch at The Army-Navy Club and his impromptu phone calls to talk about politics or the Church. Our country will miss his spirit of service.

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