Thanksgiving and Black Friday are kind of ironic. We spend a whole day sitting around, thanking God for everything we have, only to plow each other down in a parking lot at 3 a.m. to purchase everything we don't.
It's like a dream episode of Oprah: Everyone gets a 52-inch flat screen AND a Cuisinart Panini press. We feel a little guilty because just a few short hours ago we were SO grateful. But hey, it's capitalism! We'll shop, but we refuse to drop!
Yet this Thanksgiving there was an unusual contrast in several states around the country. Shoppers at Walmart, and other retail giants may have been greeted with a less-than-cheery environment as they kicked off their holiday shopping season. Thousands of workers protested their employers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday to draw attention to low wages and unaccommodating working conditions. At a time when we all head to the malls a little more frequently, it is important for us to ask the question: "Where would Jesus shop?"
The answer is not as simple as supporting small businesses over Walmart. Instead, it is a call for all people of faith, especially Catholics, to live-out our long tradition of speaking up for these workers. The people who are working harder and harder for less and less need a community on their side.
Businesses around the country are going to be focused on their bottom lines this holiday season -- turning a profit is their job. Yet, it is also the job of these businesses to work with these employees to find common ground that creates good jobs with decent benefits.
As this topic came up around my Thanksgiving table, I remember my mother saying, "You used to be able to raise a family being a department manager." It seems as though these average-paying jobs have been squeezed out and replaced by low-wage, dead-end jobs, where workers have no choice but to work longer hours to make ends meet.
The cashier working extra shifts to make ends meet, needs to be at the forefront of our consciousness this holiday season. These hardworking individuals, who are able to spend less time at home, are taking responsibility for their families, but could use a little help.
If big-chain stores like Walmart brought up their minimum wage floor to a reasonable $25,000 a year, $15 billion more would be entered into the economy, creating 100,000 new jobs. For so many Americans, this would be the difference between working another shift, and spending dinnertime with their families.
We have got to stop allowing people to say that economic stability for individuals comes at the expense of successful businesses. We can have both.
People of faith have to join with these employees in calling for an end to the shortsighted policies that created wealthier CEOs and a poorer working class. Most importantly, we have to use our power as consumers to make responsible choices in where we shop. Each purchase this holiday season can be a chance to stand with the "least of these" among us, as we work toward policies that promote a shared prosperity among us all.
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