Word for Word 5/8/19

Fr. Mark Osterhaus
Fr. Mark Osterhaus

On May 1st of each year, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.  St. Joseph was the legal father of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of Matthew, the people in Jesus’ hometown, when asking about Jesus, questioned: “Isn’t this the son of the carpenter?” So, Jesus is identified by the occupation of Joseph.

May 1st has become a day dedicated to the rights of workers all over the world.   The issue of income inequality is at the forefront of many May Day demonstrations and protests in a variety of countries. Many church communities have stepped up in support of the right workers have to organize and to receive just compensation for their labors. Jesus and Joseph both labored for their daily bread.

Here in Allamakee County, the income inequality gap can be very apparent. Recently I talked with David Boss of Northeast Iowa Community Action Corporation (NEICAC). David told me the percentages of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch in area counties. 70% of Allamakee County students qualify. In Winneshiek County, 12% of the students qualify. While the median household income in Allamakee County is $45,890, 67% of the jobs in our county pay less than $40,000 per year.  Perhaps that is why 3,452 Allamakee County citizens commute to a job outside our county.

Coupled with these statistics is a related issue:  We have a lack of affordable housing here in Allamakee County. We need homes in a certain price range to attract workers to our area. Val Reinke of Allamakee County Economic Development told a group of pastors a few months ago that we have about 50 jobs in our area which would pay $15 per hour, but very few housing options to offer potential applicants.

What can we do? Val Reinke offered some suggestions:

- Add new homes to meet the community’s needs
- Improve existing housing stock with updates and remodels
- Review and revise county and municipal codes
- Maintain list of rental properties
- Offer incentives to move here.

Our Waukon High School students have had a fine tradition of constructing a home under the leadership of Jed Hemann, and the support of area businesses. Perhaps a Habitat for Humanity home could also be built as a way to muster some momentum for affordable housing here.

Promote churning the housing market, by encouraging people who could downsize to move to a smaller home, allowing their larger home to be bought by a family needing more room.

We as a community need to support programs for affordable housing and to encourage efforts to pay people a living wage if we want our young people to consider living here. We also need to welcome people of diverse backgrounds if we are to retain our current population.  St. Joseph is a patron saint for people who, living in close knit communities, are making a living by the work of their hands.

Fr. Mark Osterhaus,
Catholic Parish Pastor
Waukon, Hanover, Dorchester


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