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Covering the Progressive Faith Community

16 June
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Rev. Liz Muñoz: Economics a Core Christian Justice Issue

Jack Jenkins (@jackmjenkins) of the Center for American Progress interviewed Rev. Liz Muñoz, an Episcopal priest with St. James Cathedral in Chicago, about strikes by fast-food workers seeking higher wages, better conditions and more hours. Muñoz works with Arise Chicago, which brings faith communities into the fight over labor issues.

From the interview (emphasis mine):

JJ: Why do you think faith communities and faith leaders are involved with these strikes? What basic principles and values are at stake here?

LM: Well, first of all I would say that it’s biblical. The prophets often warned people about landowners and those who controlled jobs and wages. “Woe to those who did not pay the workers just wages or who withheld wages.” Ezekiel, Isaiah, Micah, all these prophets spoke to this issue. Jesus told many parables of workers being paid just wages and right wages.

In fact, throughout history one of the core Christian justice issues has been economics.

JJ: So it sounds like there is a larger movement at work here—a sort of collaboration between faith groups and the greater labor movement. What connection do you see between these two groups especially moving forward?

LM: In this country we are in an age of crisis—of economic crisis. I don’t think anybody would deny that. As faith leaders we are called to respond to that kind of crisis. This is true throughout the Bible. The prophets have called leaders and people of faith to stand up.

To quote the prophet Ezekiel, “God said, I look for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land.”

I think we as faith leaders are called to stand in between that gap, to point out where injustice is happening, where there are wolves, so to speak, tearing at the net.

As the New York Times reported last summer, a study by the National Employment Law Project found that the recovery is generating more low-wage work than anything else (emphasis mine):

The report looked at 366 occupations tracked by the Labor Department and clumped them into three equal groups by wage, with each representing a third of American employment in 2008. The middle third — occupations in fields like construction, manufacturing and information, with median hourly wages of $13.84 to $21.13 — accounted for 60 percent of job losses from the beginning of 2008 to early 2010.

The job market has turned around since then, but those fields have represented only 22 percent of total job growth. Higher-wage occupations — those with a median wage of $21.14 to $54.55 — represented 19 percent of job losses when employment was falling, and 20 percent of job gains when employment began growing again.

Lower-wage occupations, with median hourly wages of $7.69 to $13.83, accounted for 21 percent of job losses during the retraction. Since employment started expanding, they have accounted for 58 percent of all job growth.

And that’s to say nothing on the still-too-high unemployment rate and the ominous numbers of long-term unemployed. Paul Krugman (nytimeskrugman) addressed this last week in a column headlined “The Big Shrug.” In it, Krugman lamented that the current state of affairs has been allowed to become a new normal, despite the harm it causes. Looking for answers to why this has been allowed, Krugman notes the presence of monetary hawks, warning about the perils of low interest rates. But he also points to two other reasons:

Why isn’t reducing unemployment a major policy priority? One answer may be that inertia is a powerful force, and it’s hard to get policy changes absent the threat of disaster. As long as we’re adding jobs, not losing them, and unemployment is basically stable or falling, not rising, policy makers don’t feel any urgent need to act.

Another answer is that the unemployed don’t have much of a political voice. Profits are sky-high, stocks are up, so things are O.K. for the people who matter, right?

 

 
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