The key economic issue facing the country today is income inequality and the subsequent increase in poverty. This is exacerbated by unjust minimum wages, unequal pay for women, lack of federal paid family leave laws, systematic attacks on labor rights, and high rates of unemployment and incarceration among youth and in communities of color.
Unemployment and underemployment harm the long-term fiscal health of our economy. Unemployment also exacts an enormous human toll on our society. When people lose their jobs, they often lose their family’s health insurance as well. Parents who cannot provide for their children are beset not only by bills but too often by emotional struggles as well. College age students who are unable to afford tuition either postpone college, deferring their dreams and facing uncertain job prospects, or work two jobs, thereby making their education less effective. Elderly persons who live on fixed incomes must often choose between heating their homes, taking their medications, or buying their groceries.
This economic picture, however, does not extend to all Americans. Large corporations continue to rack up record profits. Hedge fund managers, able to manipulate the tax code, pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries or the people who mow their lawns. In 1980 the wealthiest one percent of Americans garnered ten percent of the national income. Today that same top one percent receives twenty-one percent of national income. This increasing gap has significantly distorted our political system due to the unjust role of money in politics, funding candidates, lawmakers, and robust lobbying firms. We need to curtail this trend if we are to have any hope of developing just policies and a genuine democracy.
In this rich country of ours, it is a scandal that instead of focusing on jobs and a living wage, too many in the political class seem focused on budget cuts that will only further constrict economic growth and result in layoffs of those who provide vital services such as firefighters, emergency medical personnel, teachers, and childcare workers.
It is appalling that social programs which help the poor are being cut while the nation’s wealthiest persons are not asked to contribute their fair share of tax revenue. It is absurd that Congress entertains the idea of cutting Medicare or raising the Social Security retirement age, but refuses to close tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans and the largest corporations. Instead of cutting state and federal programs that serve the nation’s most excluded people, we must strengthen and enhance them.
Our efforts for a just economy must go well beyond our borders. Too many regularly denounce the pittance our nation spends on international development. Inadequate funding allows old and new diseases to continue to kill millions of innocent people. We fully support the efforts to promote better working conditions for those who labor in sweatshops for substandard wages. We hope the United States will pay closer attention to the socio-economic needs of our neighbors in Latin America, where our nation’s thirst for drugs and weaponry for export wreak havoc on still fragile democracies.
In the final analysis, the moral measure of any economic policy must be the measure supplied by Jesus himself: “Whatever you do for these the least of my brethren, you do for me.” (cf. Matthew 25:40)