Interfaith Worker Justice kicks off national effort for jobless

Caseworker Jessica Yon discusses eligibility for unemployed people at a jobs center in San Francisco Feb. 4. (CNS/Reuters/Robert Galbraith)

WASHINGTON -- Calling unemployment an issue of justice for people of faith, Interfaith Worker Justice have launched a new national “Faith Advocates for Jobs” campaign.

Civic and political advocacy for a national program to expand employment and job training is a core priority of the campaign.

Social activists representing various faiths and interfaith groups met at the United Methodist Building here, across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court, for the launch of the campaign Dec. 2.

The campaign also plans within the next year to organize at least 1,000 local congregation-based or interfaith support committees to assist the unemployed and their families in communities across the nation.

For most Americans, December is a time of family, friends, giving and sharing, “but for the 27 million workers without jobs or in need of full-time work instead of part-time, it’s a season of stress and anxiety,” said Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice.

“And despite Commerce Department reports that American companies just had the best quarter ever, earning record profits, there seems to be no plan in sight for job creation, job sharing, job investment or, frankly, job anything,” she said.

“In our faith communities we are courageously trying to patch the holes of the economy, heroically trying to catch families as they slide into poverty,” she added. “Our shelters, soup kitchens, job clubs and food banks are overwhelmed and responding faithfully.

“But we all know our congregations’ charitable responses are woefully inadequate to address the crisis of an economy unfocused, unwilling and, without national commitment, unable to put the nation’s workers back to work.

“Sadly, we are not clamoring in the streets,” she added. “Too many, even in our faith communities, have given up hope. We’ve accepted the lie that nothing can be done.”

“We are gathered here today,” Bobo said, “to create ‘Faith Advocates for Jobs,’ to reclaim a vision and hope for quality jobs for all.

“As a nation we face an enormous building and rebuilding task. As a religious community we’ve been largely silent on these issues,” she said.

Three U.S. senators -- Democrats Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and Sherrod Brown of Ohio and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- addressed the campaign’s founding meeting.

Brown pointed out that a century ago average life expectancy in America was about 45 to 46 years, some 30 years less than it is today. The reason for the difference, he said, has been the “progressive movement of people of faith” in their churches and temples, in the labor movement, the civil rights movement.

“People of faith pushed the government to do the right thing,” he said. “So much of the move forward in this country, the advances in social and economic justice, came about because people of faith made such a difference in pushing the government to do it.

“That’s the history you are part of. That’s the call to action for the future,” he said.

Casey told the group that just the day before he met with a small group of constituents who had traveled down from Bucks County, Pa., to tell him how losing their jobs has affected their lives and their families.

He said they described “situations they never, ever thought they’d be in.”

Losing a job and not being able to find work “robs you of your dignity,” he said.

Sanders highlighted the growing gap between the very rich and the nation’s poor and middle classes. Today the richest 1 percent of Americans earns “23.5 percent of the income in America,” he said, while poverty is increasing and “the middle class is collapsing.”

Representatives of faith and interfaith groups attending the meeting were asked to sign on to a statement of principles and commit their organizations to the jobs campaign.

The statement recalls that “the greatest advance in social policy for U.S. workers in the 20th century occurred during the Great Depression.”

It recalls that in the middle of World War II President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for an economic bill of rights that includes for everyone “the right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms of the nation” and “the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.”

The statement sets four national priorities for the Faith Advocates for Jobs campaign:

  • “Priority attention should be given to job creation and retention efforts to reach the most vulnerable populations and regions.

  • “New jobs that are created should provide living wages and benefits and, wherever possible, provide the possibility of long-term employment.

  • “The safety net must be restored for the unemployed and the poor, including extended unemployment compensation, income support and health care.

  • “The government must step in to provide jobs in particularly distressed communities doing work that needs to be done, whenever the private sector fails to employ all those wanting to work.”

The Rev. Paul H. Sherry, former president of the United Church of Christ, who is now director of the Washington office of Interfaith Worker Justice, is the national coordinator of the campaign.

[Jerry Filteau is NCR Washington correspondent.]

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