Stephen Kent

Stephen Kent

It is oxymoronic — if not tasteless — to “celebrate” a day marking something that for millions of Americans is but a memory.

We’re approaching the first Monday of September, which marks Labor Day in the U.S., and almost 13 million Americans — 8.3 percent of the workforce — remain unemployed. Another 8.2 million will remain in involuntary part-time jobs. The traditional Labor Day is a bitter reminder to millions of our fellow citizens that they are more on the road to poverty than prosperity, leaving little to celebrate.

Once every four years, the nation has the opportunity to makes changes in its management. The privilege of voting this year is a moral responsibility for the well-being of all. This Labor Day should be the beginning of a period of study and reflection leading to the ultimate decision day: Nov. 6.

There is more to do than to feel sorry for those without work or to contribute to food banks. This period before the elections should be one of understanding our responsibility as Christians, to analyze the position of candidates and apply these standards to our choice.

Billions of dollars are expected to be spent on political campaigns, especially advertising, this year.

We need not be passive recipients of political pablum, photo-ops of tie-less, shirt-sleeve candidates’ appearances at state fairs.

“The relative silence of candidates and their campaigns on the moral imperative to resist and overcome poverty is both ominous and disheartening,” the U.S. bishops say in their annual Labor Day statement. “Despite unacceptable levels of poverty, few candidates and elected officials speak about pervasive poverty or offer a path to overcome it.

“We need to hear from those who seek to lead the country about what specific steps they would take to lift people out of poverty,” the statement says.

Think of these next few weeks as an extended job interview and analyze candidates accordingly.

If a job applicant said, “I will increase profits,” the interviewer should be quick to ask for specifics. What is your plan? Will you increase revenues, reduce costs, develop new products? Tell me what you can do for this company?

Voters should do no less when choosing a chief executive.

When just 10 percent of Americans approve of the board of directors — the U.S. Congress — it is time for some serious introspection. The Gallup poll shows 83 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job — an all-time low. The situation is unacceptable.

“Work is more than a paycheck; it helps raise our families, develop our potential, share in God’s creation and contribute to the common good,” says the bishops’ Labor Day statement.

“In this time of economic turmoil and uncertainty, we need to reflect on the moral and human dimensions of too much poverty and not enough work,” the bishops say.

These weeks prior to Election Day are a good time to do just that. Prepare for voting as if your vote may put one person back to work. It just might.


Kent, now retired, was editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. He can be contacted at: