Inside the U.S. Bishops Labor Day Statement: Hope Amidst Hard Times

Raise your hand if you know someone who is out of work.

It seems like this year is hitting my hard as I have several friends and family members who are still looking for work.  Each is dedicated, bright and hard working.  They have simply found themselves in the middle of a wicked economic downturn.

As Christians, it's hard to know just how we ought to respond to either those who are unemployed or the way in which the government is trying to steady the ship.  The US Bishops may be of help in this situation.

Each year the US Bishops issue a statement on Labor Day weekend.  Their goal is simple: apply Catholic principles to the challenges of the day.  This year's statement, "A New Social Contract for Today's New Things" was issued by Bishop Murphy of Rockville Centre as he is the chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

I'd like to break down the document in a format that is simple and hopefully, easy to apply to whatever situation you may find yourself in this Labor Day weekend.


  • "This year has been difficult for many workers."

  • The Bishops explain that, at the current rate of small US economic growth, it would take nearly seven years to reclaim the jobs that were present prior to the economic collapse.

  • The need has never been greater for a new 'social contract', linking workers with new opportunities for productivity.

Catholic Social Teaching

  • Here the Bishops discuss the Church's tradition of teaching on matters of work.

  • Citing the 1891 breakthrough Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII, the Bishops speak of how Leo responded to the pressing needs of workers in his time.  Today's Pope through his bishops is trying to do the same.

  • Central to the Church's response to unemployment and exploitation today is the centrality of the worker.  The worker has dignity, plain and simple.

Work, Workers and the Economy

  • "Work is good for every person."

  • "Work is that aspect of life that allows us to care for ourselves and those we love and to contribute to the wider society."

  • In the political context, the Bishops explain that, for an unemployed person, work is THE most important issue.  Not health care.  Not even social issues.  It's work that puts food on the table.  Just ask someone who is out of work.


  • "We find ourselves at a crucial moment in economic life.  Workers need to have a real voice and effective protections in economic life."

  • Finally, the Bishops remind all readers that work allows people to be co-creators with God.  When we are without work, we don't share as fully in God's power to work within us and thus within society.

It's my hope that we'll each thank God for whatever employment we have.  Even if your job isn't perfect (whose is?), be grateful and find a way to make it better.  For those who are still looking for work, pray for them and put your creative powers to work on their behalf.  Is there someone in your network that could help them?

To read the complete text, click here.

*Photo by Robert Couse-Baker