Current Comment

Pro-Family Policies

After a few attempts and some last minute rewriting, the House of Representatives passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act on May 13, which bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Only four Democrats signed on to the bill, and President Obama has vowed to veto the measure if it passes the Senate, which seems unlikely. Like the Senate’s immigration reform bill, the House’s measure is likely to languish in limbo, a casualty of Washington’s political divisions.

Some observers have portrayed the House’s move as a sop to the party’s conservative base. Yet banning abortions after 20 weeks is not as radical as pro-choice advocates would have you believe. Many European nations ban abortions after 13 weeks. According to polls, a majority of U.S. women, including Democrats and millennials, support a 20-week ban. The same month the House bill passed, an article in The New York Times documented the survival of premature babies at 22 weeks. The viability marker dictated by Roe v. Wade—24 weeks—is now clearly exposed as arbitrary.


The group Democrats for Life has offered one way forward. Kristen Day, the executive director, has proposed that Congress pass both the Unborn Child Protection Act and a law providing paid maternity leave, a measure embraced by many Democrats. The more we can do to assist mothers, to show them that they will receive support from society to raise their children, the fewer abortions there will be. Neither party can claim to be pro-family if it fails to protect both young mothers and their unborn children.

L.A. Wage Wars

The Catholic Church and organized labor have long been strong proponents of providing all workers with a just wage. So why are Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit run by a Jesuit priest, Gregory Boyle, and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor both seeking exemptions from the recently passed $15 minimum wage ordinance in Los Angeles?

Homeboy Industries, which provides training, counseling and jobs for former gang members and ex-convicts, wants a temporary pass for those workers who spend no more than 18 months in its transitional employment program. The group’s executives warn that with the higher wage they would likely have to cut 60 of their 170 trainee positions. Rusty Hicks, head of the Federation of Labor and a leader in the minimum wage campaign, opposes granting such an exemption to Homeboy and similar nonprofits. On the other hand, he argues (some would say hypocritically) that the wage ordinance should not apply to unionized workplaces, where employees might agree to lower pay through collective bargaining.

For over 25 years, Homeboy Industries has given a second chance to men and women whom others considered unemployable. Because the wage clients receive there is only a small part of a larger package of services and support, there is a strong case for granting the group and comparable social enterprises a time-limited exemption. The argument for exempting union workers, however, is a bit more cynical. Such a move could push businesses to let employees unionize in order to avoid the $15 minimum. That might help an employer’s bottom line and bring in more dues to the union, but it will do little to advance the law’s true aim: lifting workers and their families out of poverty.

Let Our Prisoners Go

In February Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois proposed reducing the state’s prison population by 25 percent within 10 years. The same week the MacArthur Foundation announced a $75 million challenge to reduce over-incarceration. Meanwhile, Pope Francis has repeatedly called for broad prison reform and shorter jail time. But, as Marc Mauer and David Cole wrote recently in The New York Times (5/24), nearly everyone knows the criminal justice system needs fixing, but few have provided solutions.

The authors have answers. Longer sentences, they say, do not have greater deterrent effect and could be cut in half. Sentences in the United States are two to 10 times longer than those for the same crimes committed by the British, Dutch or French. One in every nine Americans in prison is serving a life sentence, and the older they get, the less risk they represent. Today 250,000 inmates are over 50; many should be considered for parole. Two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years, but many of these arrests are for parole violations that do not harm others. Instead, the writers suggest, fine them for the violation. Local drug courts can reduce substance abuse without incarceration.

New York, New Jersey and California have already achieved the 25 percent goal set by Illinois. Many opponents of reform are politicians and contractors who reap economic gains from the construction and operation of prisons, as well as candidates who campaign on “getting tough on crime.” It is time for the church and the media to spread the word that prisoners are people and that the public good is not served well when large numbers of people (2,220,300 in 2013) are incarcerated.


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Joshua DeCuir
3 years 8 months ago
"The argument for exempting union workers, however, is a bit more cynical." The pressures being faced by Homeboy Industries is not isolated; a perusal of the CBO report issued when Pres. Obama first called for increasing the federal min. wage. As that report notes, gains in income among low income workers could be offset by smaller businesses being forced to not hire or terminate workers to save costs. Note: the report is not talking about the big profit companies like Wal Mart. This "Comment" should have noted the tradeoffs being faced & acknowledge that these tradeoffs are not just limited to an organization with ties to the Jesuits, but are widely faced in the economy.
Mary Keane
3 years 8 months ago
@ Joshua DeCuir --Good point. However, I did not read the article as suggesting that other industries, including non-profits, were not affected, but sensed that the issue was significant because it finds a Jesuit ministry within a social justice milieu that has argued strongly for livable wages seeking exemption from wage laws.
Mary Keane
3 years 8 months ago
Odd to see this article, as for some reason Homeboy Industries has been on my mind, and just last weekend I tried to recount a story from "Tattoos on the Heart" to a neighbor. Homeboy Industries is a remarkable ministry and I am hopeful that the training component, along with the other benefits that can be accessed through Homeboy, will justify a relaxation for a term. This would certainly add incentive to finishing training. If Homeboy Industries loses a third of its training slots, how much will that help? Those who access Homeboy have great difficulties to face and there can hardly be any benefit to adding another sixty unemployed and unemployable young people to the markets of the street. My anxiety about Homeboy was relieved by the laugh that I got about exempting union based employment because wages might be lowered through collective bargaining. Uh-huh. Too clever by half, to encourage unionization in order to circumvent wage minimums. Those concerned might do worse than to not only read "Tattoos on the Heart," but also to visit their online store and access some of their goods. Solidarity, that's the ticket!
Mary Pearlman
3 years 8 months ago
There's a point to be made for advocating for fair wages rather than legislating for them. Too bad Homeboys and other nonprofits and similar industries can't afford legislative lobbyists, or have the political influence of labor, business, or banking.
Leonard Villa
3 years 8 months ago
The just wage portion of Catholic social teaching is easily stated but tough to enact especially since most pols have no clue about what it takes to run a business since many of them have never had a real job. They are simply on the public payroll. Their whole approach to the minimum wage is completely arbitrary: $15? Why not $20, $30? It's a made-up number and while these same pols and the "usual suspects" pat themselves on the back for their social justice, the net effect of their "justice" is that people are being thrown out of work, the very people who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the enhanced minimum wage and now a Catholic non-profit group is exactly feeling that effect: "The group’s executives warn that with the higher wage they would likely have to cut 60 of their 170 trainee positions." Small businesses, small family businesses, small non-profits bear the brunt of a clueless liberalism. Ditto for Obamacare and other statist "solutions."
Chuck Kotlarz
3 years 8 months ago
“Clueless liberalism” for some reason occurs quite frequently in Republican dominant states. Seven of the ten states with the highest percentage of minimum wage workers are republican dominant states. A tax payer subsidized workforce is perhaps the gift that keeps on giving to the bottom line as well as the legacy of at least four of the top ten US billionaires. Four of the ten states with the lowest percentage of minimum wage workers are democrat dominant states.
Ernest Martinson
3 years 8 months ago
Exempting union workers from the minimum wage could benefit unionization through employer acquiescence of more unionization due to less labor costs. The minimum wage already protects the union from nonunion workers who would work for less than the minimum wage. But it does not protect a potential worker with little experience who only wants to get his foot in the door to prove what he can do. The minimum wage wages war on some it supposedly helps.


The latest from america

“The Wife” and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” feature female protagonists with strongly contrasting stories.
Michael V. Tueth, S.J.February 20, 2019
Frederic Martel boldly told reporters at a press conference at the Foreign Press Association in Rome on Feb. 20 that “the great majority” of the more than 200 members of the College of Cardinals are leading double lives.
Gerard O’ConnellFebruary 20, 2019
Does the Church, as the Body of Christ, offer a response to the sex abuse scandals?
Daniel PhilpottFebruary 20, 2019
You might ask, “Shouldn’t we all pretend to be Jesus?” We should, but that does not seem to have gotten most of us all that far. Perhaps a humbler role is a better beginning.
Terrance KleinFebruary 20, 2019