The next few months promise to be challenging ones for unions, and workers who value their union rights. In New Hampshire, Missouri, and Kentucky, newly elected politicians have promised to go after organized labor by passing so-called “right to work” legislation. Indeed, many observers expect national right-to-work proposals to come up for debate in the US Congress (libertarian-minded Kentucky Senator Rand Paul filed such a bill in the last session). In Iowa and Missouri measures targeting the bargaining rights of public employees are being floated. How will Catholics respond to these initiatives? How should they, given the premises of Catholic social teaching? Read more
The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel and John Erb
In a four-part series on this blog site we examine the factors that determine family stability or instability, which as we previously wrote, are namely income and a few socio-cultural trends. We stress that these factors do not form a neat equation nor does one of the factors necessarily cause another; simply that a few stability factors parallel one another.
The Geography Variable
First, wages and cost of living vary from state-to-state, from region-to-region. New York City is, for example, higher income and higher cost; Mississippi or Alabama is lower income and lower cost. To have a top 1% income in the New York City region requires nearly $1.4million annual (much higher for the top 1/10th%). Meanwhile, an annual income of about $100,000 equals top 1% in parts of Mississippi and Alabama.
Second, higher income families are concentrated within specific metropolitan areas and specific areas of a state. So too, lower income families are concentrated within certain city neighborhoods, certain rural areas or certain state regions. In the mythological Lake Wobegon Chatterbox Café, an unemployed farmhand can sit at a table with the town banker. That is unlikely anywhere else. Higher income people do not share the same space as middle income or lower income people—not even at the football stadium, or the airport, or at church.
Third, some commentators refer to cultural/political geography. They mean our country can be divided (or color-coded) into, on one hand, East Coast and West Coast and, on the other hand, Middle America. This essay, however, is on a different track. Instability and income stress touches the majority of families—blue and red, Coast and Middle.
The Education Variable
Prior to 1980 young adults in our country were adequately educated to meet the needs of the marketplace. That is, a sufficient number had sufficient education in the trades, accounting, secretarial skills, engineering and more. Since 1980 the needs of employers have steadily outpaced educational attainment. Thus, as is often said today, a college degree is a necessity. The word degree is crucial.
With individual exceptions, income strongly parallels a college degree: Those who have a degree also have some family security and a modicum of upward mobility. Those without a degree more likely experience instability and remain stuck at their family’s income level.
There are two related points to make about a college degree and income.
First, those young adults whose parents hold a degree are more likely to attend college than other young adults and they are much more likely to complete college. A young adult whose parents did not complete college is not as likely to enroll in college or once enrolled is more likely to drop out. Mentioning this college degree gap feels un-American because education is thought to be an economic leveler. A young adult who studies and works hard can, the theory says, do better economically than the previous generation. According to the American promise, no one is condemned to their parents’ income level. Unfortunately, this promising theory has not been the reality. Those born between 1960 and 1980 have, on average, a 60% chance of exceeding their parents’ income. Those born after 1980 have, on average, a 50% chance of ever exceeding their parents.
The second related point tells us that not all college degrees are equal. About 8% of those billionaires who hold a U.S. passport also have a Harvard University degree. Other Ivy League schools account for a similar percentage of billionaires. The remaining top 10% in income also hold degrees from Ivy League or major state colleges or in fewer cases from one of the well-known Catholic colleges. On the next step down, that of an aspiring upper-middle class family, the student’s degree comes from a Catholic college or a less prestigious state school; followed by other schools, public and private.
A quick digression about dropping out of college: In a public, four-year college about 60% obtain a degree within six years; about 40% have dropped out. In a private, four-year college the graduation rate is about 65% within six years; about 35% never finish.
A community college can be a start, but the full bachelor’s degree is the factor that parallels a better income. In Illinois, to take one example, only about 21% of community college students complete a program there within three years. Of those who begin at a community college only about 15% go on to a bachelor’s degree within six to eight years.
Why do students drop out? Tuition becomes too expensive; the tension between studies and a job becomes unmanageable; someone in the family is ill; the student or spouse loses a job; a baby is born. As significantly, though not as frequently discussed, is a student’s lack of confidence in study habits like perseverance, curiosity, concentration, resourcefulness, creativity and more. They are unprepared to take apart a textbook, to know what is important in class and what is not so important, to write paragraphs that flow one from the other, to stick with a problem, to manage time knowing when to take overtime on the job and when to concentrate on school. Rather than confidently finding help with their studies, too many students drift away.
To be continued…
by Bill Droel and John Erb
For some time now, we have thought about the meaning of income levels in our society. Our main point in this essay is not so much the preciseness of the numbers, although we consulted several sources. This multi-part essay is one attempt to put lots of discussion into one format. In our professional settings (a financial advisor’s office and a community college) and in informal conversations, we sense that most of us have only a vague notion of economic realities in our country. Despite comprehensive books about inequality, despite newspaper articles about factory closings or about new business ventures, despite national political campaigns, most of us are fuzzy about how our situation compares with others and about our own prospects for economic stability and about the reliability of our economy’s promise: “Hard work will be rewarded.”
In normal conversations people do not speak too specifically about their income. Even in those situations where personal income is revealed, many people lack an up to date perspective on how their family compares to others. For example, $85,000 per year was once considered a good income, but for most Americans today this amount is often not enough to dispel economic stress.
Does our $85,000 income example include a pension or a retirement account? Probably not, because as each year goes by many more families have no guaranteed pension. That means families who deserve a secure retirement have to dedicate about 15% of earnings toward retirement savings. Social security benefits, under both Democrats and Republicans, have been reduced, and continue to trend in that direction. Thus, an individual’s own savings becomes more important for security in retirement.
In addition to concern about retirement, our $85,000 family is likely stressed these days because of health care insurance. There has been a 25% increase in insurance cost over the last five years for the middle class, even though the insurance mechanisms have supposedly been reformed.
And finally, there is college education for this family. Its cost was not proportionately a big part of a family’s budget even 20 years ago.
So, if a seemingly secure family is budgeting for retirement in a responsible way, has adequate health care insurance and is saving for college, there is not much left over on an $85,000 income.
It is true that the overall U.S. economy has doubled within the past 35 years. It is true that the average income has increased. The income gap, however, is growing. When it comes to income increase, 70% of it now goes to those already in the top 10% of income. More dramatically, the top 1/10% is gaining income far ahead of all others, including the next top 9.9%.
For half of all U.S. families, their share of the growing economy has shrunk significantly. This bottom 50% of families earns 12.5% of the country’s total income. Those in the top 1% in income actually get 20% of the total income in our country.
In addition to an income gap there are parallel social gaps. We stress that there is not an easy cause-effect relationship between these other gaps and the income gap. That is, it is wrong to say that if every family changed their behavior on this-or-that, those families would increase their income. Or that if somehow a family would simply move from here to there, that family would increase its income. It is likewise wrong to say that if only government had this social policy instead of that social policy, families would get with it and they would improve their income.
Nonetheless, some social and cultural gaps strongly parallel the income gap. Specifically, there is general correspondence (though not hard cause-and-effect) between income and one’s geography, one’s cultural setting, one’s educational level and one’s family stability. To be continued…
Many employees of the Catholic PeaceHealth system in the Northwest already have union representation – and another thousand will before the curtain falls on 2016. Last week a group of 100 health care techs at Longview’s PeaceHealth St. John’s voted to join SEIU Local 49 – and another 900 at PeaceHealth facilities in Vancouver have just completed voting. The latter group voted in favor of joining a union last month by a 3-1 margin, but needed a runoff to decide whether an AFT or SEIU health care affiliate would win the job. The election procedure demonstrated that a union organizing campaign doesn’t have to be a bitter and conflictual affair if all sides bring a charitable perspective. According to the Columbian newspaper, PeaceHealth management was positive about the tone of the campaign:
“We greatly appreciate the respectful manner in which our caregivers considered this issue and one another’s point of view,” said Wade Hunt, PeaceHealth Southwest interim chief executive, in a notice sent to employees after the first vote. “The respectful nature of the discussions leading up to the vote were a credit to our people and to the special culture we have created at PeaceHealth.”
Long before global corporations chasing low wages started outsourcing production of car parts, televisions and smartphones to the global South, the garment industry had paved the way. But a growing awareness that workers in these factories were exposed to hazardous chemicals and unguarded machinery, paid poverty wages, and suffered retaliation or even imprisonment when they tried to organize in unions, led consumers to demand action from the global brands sitting atop of the supply chains. They wanted to know that their jeans, shirts and shoes weren’t being produced in sweatshops.
In 2000, a group of universities, student groups, and labor activists formed the Worker Rights Consortium to make sure workers who cut, stitched and assembled college-logo gear were treated fairly. The WRC drafted a code of conduct for suppliers and conducts inspections and production facilities to monitor compliance. The affiliated schools demand that the multinational corporations receiving a license to produce gear bearing the college name ensure that the code of conduct is followed. Today, the WRC reports nearly 200 members, including many familiar names in Catholic higher education: Georgetown, Fordham, Villanova, Duquesne, Boston College, Gonzaga, Loyola University Chicago, Xavier University, Creighton, and many others.
Reports of serious labor abuses at Hansae, a Nike supplier in Vietnam, have circulated for years. The company is stonewalling WRC monitors, and Nike is refusing to intervene. Nike’s license to produce Georgetown gear expires at the end of 2016, and the university says it will not be renewed unless the global firm and its suppliers comply with WRC inspections.
The Washington Post reports that Georgetown student activists ended a two-day sit-in on December 12, with the university committing to end Nike’s licensing agreement if the apparel maker does not secure access for an independent labor monitor throughout its supply chains. The sporting goods supplier produces athletic gear bearing the Georgetown logo, but actual production of shoes and tees is subcontracted to facilities in the global South – and Nike is on the hot seat over labor practices at a now-notorious production facility in Vietnam.
Georgetown was a founding member of the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), an alliance of universities, student organizations and labor rights activists formed to stamp out sweatshop production of college-logo gear. Today nearly 200 colleges are affiliated with the WRC, including leading Catholic universities (see What is the Worker Rights Consortium?). WRC monitors visit facilities across Asia and Latin America to report on labor conditions and give workers an independent venue to pursue complaints and grievances.
In the wake of the horrible Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, Pope Francis has urged greater attention to working conditions in the global garment industry, and many Catholics have taken up the call by asking hard questions about how their clothes are made. The WRC is an admirable attempt to put this moral imperative into practice – but Nike has spent 2016 defying the WRC system in defense of a dubious supplier. Dire reports of unsafe, unhealthy and abusive labor conditions at the Korean-owned Hansae production complex in Vietnam have circulated for years, but the crisis has come to a head because Hansae is denying WRC monitors access to the facility.
Nike’s license to produce Georgetown gear expires December 31. It’s a unique opportunity to bring the company into compliance – or make Nike CEO Mark Parker explain to shareholders why shielding an abusive employer was important enough to forfeit the lucrative Hoya contract. The students’ action, and the university’s decision, is a timely affirmation of our faith in the midst of the Christmas season. It tells the world that our faith comes first – even when doing justice carries an economic price.
by Bill Droel
Martin Scorsese was vaccinated with “a Catholic imagination,” writes Fr. Andrew Greeley (1928-2013). For Scorsese this means that the use of Catholic images and themes in many of his films is “not a matter of choice but of necessity.” The Catholicism of the films, Greeley emphasizes, is not churchy. Sorrow for sins plus redemption “is worked out not in church.” The quest for holiness occurs in the messy world itself. For Scorsese and for others with a Catholic imagination, it is down-to-earth ordinary life that “hints of what God is like.”
The Catholic imagination also means that people are entangled with and obligated to their extended families, neighborhoods, religious orders and the like. This worldview is different from the dominant creed of libertarian individualism that equates freedom with maximum options. Catholicism says that it is precisely within constraining bonds that genuine though complicated freedom is found.
Two clarifications: 1.) Not all Catholics use a sacramental imagination and likewise a non-Catholic might have an analogical or sacramental take on the world and on God. 2.) To have a Catholic squint on things, a filmmaker or another type of artist, or any other worker might not be exemplary in every way, on every day. Scorsese, for example, has been married even more times than Donald Trump (who, by the way, is representative of the individualistic worldview). Scorsese admits he has sinned. But, he says, “I am a Roman Catholic; there’s no way out of it.”
Scorsese’s latest film, Silence, is a historical drama set in 17th century Japan. It is based on a 1966 novel of the same name, written by Shusaku Endo. Paul Elie, writing in New York Times Magazine (11/27/16), summarizes the plot, details the production process and connects the new film with Scorsese’s Catholic imagination.
Two Portuguese priests undertake a mission to Japan. They happen to be Jesuits, which accounts for the meeting Scorsese had with Pope Francis in late November. The missionaries are persecuted. As the plot develops, the tormentors present a choice: Continue to assert your foreign creed and face martyrdom or deny your creed and save other people. Thus the film asks: Do intentions count when determining morality? One interpretation of the film, as Elie writes, can be that “a seeming act of profanation can be an act of devotion if done out of an underlying faith.”
On the surface the film is about Jesuit missionaries. But its lesson is not churchy, just as its setting is not inside church institutions. Further, the film’s protagonist does not work things out by rising above the entanglements and obligations around him. Instead, he moves deeper into the limitations and only thereby—as some moviegoers might conclude—does he experience freedom.
Elie tells us that in 1988 Most Rev. Paul Moore (1919-2003), Episcopal bishop of New York, recommended Endo’s novel to Scorsese. From then until now, almost 28 years later, it was Scorsese’s passion to put the story onto the screen. Despite financial, legal and technical complications, Scorsese felt obligated (or more accurately, felt called) to complete the project.
A new edition of Endo’s novel is available from Acta (4848 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60640; www.actapublications.com) for $16. The same publisher has two reflections on the novel: Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimura ($26) and Faith Stripped to Its Essence by Patrick Reardon ($12.95).
Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free printed newsletter. Its next edition will feature a reflection on Silence by Greg Pierce.
Mark Shriver, inspired by Pope Francis’ life and ministry, traveled to Argentina and retraced the footsteps of our surprising Pontiff – and writes of his journey in a new book, Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis. As Mark Zimmermann reports in the Catholic Standard,
The future pope, who encouraged his seminarians and priests to have “muddy shoes” in their service to their people, especially the poor, did just that, catching the bus, even on his vacation days, to visit the priests and people at the parish in the slums, joining processions and taking part in Masses held outside train stations and under a tent in a city plaza, bringing to life what some call a “theology of the people.”
Shriver also meets a man named Sergio Sanchez, the leader of a Buenos Aires cooperative of thousands of workers who make their living by picking up cardboard and plastic bottles for recycling. He said Cardinal Bergoglio first got to know the workers by baptizing their children and later supported them in their organizing efforts. Sanchez sat in a seat of honor at Pope Francis’s inaugural Mass and has attended Vatican conferences on ending poverty.
John Carr of Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life will host Mark Shriver for a book talk Monday, Dec. 5. If you would like to attend, click here to RSVP.
The Michigan Chronicle reports that UAW-Ford, a charitable endeavor that brings together labor and management at the automaker, is sponsoring meals this winter at the Pope Francis shelter for the homeless:
This holiday season, warm meals await area homeless men, women and children at Pope Francis Center in Detroit. Thanks to a generous donation from UAW-Ford, the non-profit is now launching its Nutritious Food Program. It serves hot meals to 80-100 people daily and is expected to now serve up to 20,000 healthy meals annually, including a meal for Thanksgiving. “We’ve found that homeless men and women have extremely limited access to healthy food, which causes and exacerbates serious health problems; consequently, we started our nutritious food program,” said Jesuit Fr. Tim McCabe, executive director of the Pope Francis Center.
God bless the men and women of Ford, and the staff of the Pope Francis Center, for their important work!
In a Vatican conference for Catholic business leaders, Pope Francis drew notice when he reminded business leaders that the Church believes riches are good when they are placed at the service of our neighbor; otherwise they are iniquitous. The conference theme was “Business leaders as agents of social and economic inclusion.” According to news reports first publicized on www.sambla.no, the Holy Father instructed attendees that “money must serve, not govern…Businesses should not exist to make money, even if the money serves as a measure of how they function. Businesses should exist to serve.” The conference called upon business leaders to be “agents of social and economic inclusion.” Francis also shared his concern for migrants and refugees. He called on the business leaders to “collaborat[e] in creating a source of dignified work, stable and abundant, both in countries of origin and host countries, and in these latter, both for the local population and for immigrants.” [my italics]