The Common Good
September-October 2000

The Rich Get Richer

by Alice J. Burnette Davis | September-October 2000

In these boom times, the wealth gap is getting worse.

The gap between rich and poor in the United States has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. Consider these facts, most of them from a December 1999 report by United for a Fair Economy titled Divided Decade: Economic Disparity at the Century’s Turn.

• In 1989, there were 66 billionaires in the United States and 31.5 million people living below the poverty line. In 1999, there were 268 billionaires and 34.5 million living below the poverty line.

• At the end of 1999, the top one percent of households had more assets than the entire bottom 95 percent combined.

• Between 1977 and 1999, the top 20 percent of households increased its annual after-tax income by 43 percent, while the middle fifth gained only 8 percent, and the bottom fifth lost 9 percent in after-tax income.

• CEO compensation rose by 443 percent between 1990 and 1998, while average worker pay increased 28 percent, only slightly ahead of inflation.

• A worker who earned $25,000 in 1994 would earn $138,350 today if worker pay had grown as fast as the average CEO’s, according to the AFL-CIO.

• The minimum wage used to bring a family of three with one full-time worker above the poverty line. Now it doesn’t bring a full-time worker with one child above the poverty line.

• The 1996 Census report shows a poverty rate for blacks of roughly 28 percent, for Latinos of 29 percent, and for whites of 11 percent.

• Growing evidence from epidemiologists around the world shows that the greatest danger to public health is inequality of resources.

Call to Renewal’s Campaign to Overcome Poverty is founded on the belief that we can overcome poverty—but only if we act together. Our vision of a just social order is one where many different sectors each make their own unique contribution to the common good. Thus, our Campaign plan, endorsed by more than 60 church leaders and many others, identifies what a good society should achieve, then calls on various sectors of society to respond.

The Campaign plan identifies the following goals of a good society:

• A living family income for all.

• Affordable, quality health care for all, regardless of income.

• Schools that work for all our children.

• Safe, affordable housing.

• Safe and secure neighborhoods.

• Family-friendly policies and programs in every sector of society.

• Full participation by people of all races.

The Campaign plan then calls:

• on churches to create a "poverty tithe" and to engage in ministries that will help children, youth, and families out of poverty.

• on government to partner with churches and to work on implementing public policies that can help in overcoming poverty.

• on the business sector to share the responsibility for the common good, recognizing that maximizing profits cannot be the only bottom line.

• on labor to explore with us its important role in bettering and protecting the lives of workers, especially those in the lowest-wage jobs.

• on nonprofit organizations to join together in the effort to overcome poverty.

• and on the philanthropic community to make overcoming poverty a stronger funding priority.

Our call is for a renewed spirit of togetherness in this effort to overcome poverty. We believe that together, we can win. Won’t you join the Campaign?

REV. ALICE DAVIS is national campaign coordinator for Call to Renewal, 2401 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009; (202) 328-8745;

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