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Labor Day - a holiday celebrated in many countries, including Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, New Zealand, South Africa, India and the U.S. - is an ideal time to reflect on, and be thankful for, the God-given gift of work.
Photo by Steve Knutson on Unsplash
And it is also a most appropriate time to examine how workers are treated, and how the economy can begin to best work for everyone.
Even before COVID-19 struck, countless workers were suffering from economic injustice in numerous ways, such as a very low minimum wage - $7.25 per hour in the U.S. - sweatshop workers in poor countries sewing clothes for name brand companies in rich nations (see: https://bit.ly/3lCmaHA) and 70 million children laboring in dangerous conditions (see: https://www.hrw.org/topic/childrens-rights/child-labor).
And now with COVID, tremendous economic injustices have gotten far worse (see: https://bit.ly/3lI6X7Z).
I asked Chuck Collins, a leading U.S. economist and director of the Program on Inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies (https://ips-dc.org/) to share his insights regarding what has gone wrong and what policy solutions need to be enacted.
Collins said, "We've starved public investment in infrastructure and new technologies that could help us transition to a post-fossil fuel energy economy and create new jobs.
"We've directed too much emergency stimulus/bailout funds to helping industries and not putting money in people's pockets."
And he added, "We've failed to support local/state governments and the nonprofit sector during COVID."
Regarding what needs to happen, Collins said as emergency measures the national government should:
- "Continue unemployment insurance and stimulus checks for households with incomes under $100,000. This money is spent immediately in the economy which in turn actually keeps people in their jobs.
- Instead of bailing out industries like airlines and chain restaurants -that have the biggest lobbying clout -give spending power to customers that will support the real economy and independent businesses. Give consumers vouchers so they can patronize all kinds of restaurants, not just big chains. Or implement the creative UK policy of paying half the restaurant tab.
- We need bold investment in infrastructure and green retrofits -to update public buildings, bridges, roads, build public transit, and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Boston City Council Michelle Wu has put out a comprehensive plan for what one city could do, drawing on examples from around the world.
- Help states weather the fiscal storm -while reducing pandemic profiteering and the concentration of wealth. States are facing $555 billion in deficits over the 2020-2022 fiscal years, a result of COVID economic disruption. This will result in mass layoffs in the public sector and nonprofit. Meanwhile, U.S. billionaires have seen their wealth increase by almost $800 billion since March 18th, the beginning of the pandemic lockdown and unemployment crisis. We should levy an emergency pandemic wealth tax on billionaires -and help state and local governments. This will also reduce the extreme concentration of wealth and power that is distorting our democracy.
- Institute an emergency charity stimulus to protect jobs in the nonprofit sector. We need to press Congress to institute an emergency charity stimulus that would increase private foundation payouts and would incentivize $200 billion in additional giving to the nonprofit sector over the next 3 years -without costing taxpayers any additional spending."
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In the boldly prophetic words of St. Pope John Paul II: "The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich; the rights of workers over the maximization of profits; the preservation of the environment over uncontrolled industrial expansion; production to meet social needs over production for military purposes."
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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