Grandfather was a union man until he was promoted; then he became management. His only son was also a union man, a tool and die maker. One son-in-law managed a gas station and fixed cars. The other son-in-law worked in public relations. Before beginning careers, the three young men each served in the Army. None went to college.

All four provided for their families, owned a modest home, and could afford for their wives to decide to stay at home and raise the children. All four women made their children's clothes on the sewing machine.

Unions, military service and management were the steps a wage earner could climb to attain a living wage that could support a family. Society and the economy have changed since then.

As reported in the Harvard Business Review, since the early 1970s, large wage gains have accrued to workers at the top of the distribution (white-collar workers), and wages have been declining or stagnant for the bottom half of the income distribution.

While wages have remained stagnant, rising housing and healthcare expenses make it impossible for hourly workers to provide a dignified livelihood for self and family. That's if they have a job – the unemployment rate remains low, but it does not reflect how many Americans dropped out of the labor force during the Great Recession – and one that's full-time. Many people remain underemployed as well as unemployed.

Yet our Catechism asserts, "Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural, and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good.”

The gospel of life demands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. "The poor, the underemployed and the unemployed are not issues, but people with names and faces. It is an essential part of our work as Catholics to build a more just society and economy."

Building a more just society has always been an essential part of being Catholic. "Human society demands that we be guided by justice, respect the rights of others and do their duty."

Likewise, building a more just economy is an essential part of being Catholic. Our Catholic social teaching is clear: “The economy must serve people, not the other way around." Work is more than a way to make a living. Work is the means to live a dignified life and contribute to a family's financial and spiritual wellbeing. As St. John Paul II reminded us, "Society as a whole must respect, defend and promote the dignity of every human person, at every moment and in every condition of that person's life." Including work!

Saint Cajetan is the patron saint of the unemployed and job seekers. His feast day is August 7.

Cato is director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Portland. Father Libra, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, is director of pro-life activities in the archdiocese.