So far in his brief tenure as leader of the world’s more than one billion Roman Catholics, love for Pope Francis has created some strange bedfellows. Practicing and non-practicing Catholics are enthusiastic about how he has rekindled the Church’s emphasis on the poor. Homeschooling and granola mommy-blogs went wild when he urged mothers to nurse during Mass. He’s even won over the Advocate, the hosts of MSNBC, and President Barack Obama, who says he shares a kinship with the Pope. It isn’t hard to imagine the President agreeing with Pope Francis’ description of the free-market as a system based on a survival of the fittest, “where the powerful feed upon the powerless” with no regard for ethics, the environment, or even God.”
I wonder if they would also agree about the evils of unemployment. During a homily in Rome, the Pope said that: “[unemployment] is a burden on our conscience” because when society is organized in such a away that it cannot offer people an opportunity to work, “there is something wrong with that society: It is not right! … It goes against God himself, who wanted our dignity to begin with (work).” During a flight from Latin America to Rome this past summer, he put this truth simply and eloquently: “man earns his dignity from earning his bread.”
Today, 91.5 million American adults are not working, and the national participating rate, the percentage of those working or looking for work, is at a 35 year low. Many of these people have given up, dropped out of the labor force and therefore aren’t even being counted in the official unemployment figures that the administration deceptively touts as improving. They are part of a silent, but growing number of Americans who are sinking into poverty and dependency. Now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, unemployed and underemployed Americans will have even less opportunity and more incentives not to work. This month, the Congressional Budget Office released a report showing how Obamacare would cause our economy to shed some 2.5 million jobs by discouraging individuals from staying in the workplace. Subsidies meant to alleviate the cost of Obamacare essentially reduce the rewards for work, encouraging people to turn down overtime, promotions, or training that would otherwise make their lives better and allow them to rise up the economic ladder.
The Pope might also find it unsettling that the healthcare law, like other government assistance programs, discourages marriage, an institution that, by design, is the best protection children have from a life of poverty and crime. Accessing “free healthcare” is easier if you aren’t married to your partner or the father of your children. Indeed, the Atlantic and CBS News have both carried stories on Obamacare’s “hidden marriage penalty,” an unintended consequence that even has educated, married urban professionals contemplating divorce in order to lower their health costs.
Pope Francis has pointed to a powerful truth about the human spirit at a crucial time when people across the globe are debating the proper role of government and the best solutions for solving issues of poverty healthcare, and unemployment. Despite the administration’s efforts to spin the CBO findings, a healthcare system that makes moving into the middle class more difficult or discourages marriage is not ‘a good thing’.
Government policies ought to encourage families to stay together and work hard to improve their lives, not punish them. Work is at the heart of human dignity.Unfortunately, Obamacare puts poor and working-class people in a position of having to choose between affordable healthcare and work that will lead to upward mobility and their economic independence. A good healthcare policy would never force people to choose between their health and their dignity.
Rachel Campos-Duffy is an author, pundit, and mother of six. She is a spokesperson for the LIBRE Initiative, an organization that promotes economic liberty, empowerment and opportunity for Hispanics.