How You Can Address Income Inequality and Poverty

Recently the USCCB posted this presentation on income inequality. I thought it was a great place to start on raising awareness about how wage inequality impacts people who are living in poverty in this country. It’s a major problem but it doesn’t have any simple solutions, and the presentation doesn’t really offer any. The complexity of the situation has been weighing heavily on my heart because the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report that came out recently indicated that:

● The higher minimum wage would reduce jobs by about 500,000, or 0.3 percent of projected 2016 employment. The CBO admits that its estimates involve much uncertainty. Job loss, it says, might be as high as 1 million or as low as almost nothing. The half-million figure is its best judgment.

● Up to 25 million workers would receive wage increases, about 16.5 million below the proposed minimum and possibly 8 million more just above it. Wage increases would raise the incomes of families in poverty by about 3 percent, or $300 annually. The effect is muted because most people in poverty don’t have jobs and many low-income workers are part-time (47 percent).

●Higher incomes would lift about 900,000 people above the government’s poverty line in 2016 ($24,100 for a family of four). That’s about 2 percent of the projected 45 million poor.

A higher minimum wage would help a lot of people, but it could also hurt a number of people too, and it certainly isn’t a final solution to the problem of poverty in the USA. The situation can’t be reduced to one simple step. Hunger and poverty are complex issues, and if we are going to end them (which I hope we all would love to see) it’s going to take a lot of work on a lot of different fronts. What the USCCB presentation does is highlight the historical, theological, and statistical reasons why we should CARE about income inequality. Great job! I care about it, but now what should I do?

How can income inequality best be addressed and what changes might be put into place within a wider series of reforms?

I have recently been reading the new “Hunger Report” on “Ending Hunger in America.” It’s 250 pages long, but a faithful and fruitful discussion on the issues of hunger in America is presented in it. It addresses income inequality, jobs, local leadership, and national policy. It also takes the time to look at those on the margins who are often left out, excluded, and denied access to the programs, jobs, and services that can keep them secure. I highly recommend taking a look at it.  Each component in addressing poverty is complex and essential, and requires people who are willing to address the issues in their complexity.

As Catholics I believe we are all called to take action with our time, voice, and resources to make an impact in our communities. We should take time to talk and learn about poverty. We should take time to speak up about poverty to our friends and, more importantly, to our policy makers. We should take time to pray about poverty. We should take time to serve those in poverty. We should use our resources to support those in poverty.

I believe that income inequality is a crisis that will only grow if we don’t address it. It’s part of a larger problem of poverty in our nation. To fix it will take some difficult decisions, and actions like raising the minimum wage are certainly an essential part of it. More importantly, though, it also requires people who are willing to make difficult decision in their own lives to address it. As we approach Lent I encourage you to think about some ways that you can impact poverty as part of your spiritual practice this season.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Connect your fast to Justice! I recently posted 5 creative fasting ideas that can help connect what you give up for Lent to the trials of those in poverty.
  2. Make letter-writing a spiritual practice. This is something I recently encouraged over at Bread for the World. Letters can comfort the grieving, embrace the lonely, uplift the discouraged, and carry love across the globe. A letter can also affect the lives of people you may not even know. Writing to your policy makers in Washington, D.C., can influence the decisions they make—decisions that affect millions of people both here at home and around the world.
  3. Give a little extra. Budgets are moral documents. They indicate what we value. Take a look at yours and evaluate if you can make a sacrifice anywhere so that you can help others who are struggling.
  4. Take time to pray about these issues. As we connect with God’s heart for justice, our own lives find strength and inspiration. Consider making issues of poverty a topic for prayer and contemplation. You might also consider taking a group though a time of prayer and study together. I am hoping to use this guide with my family this year. 

I pray God will bless you this Lent, and that you will be led into the heart of our just God and his love for all people.