IN AMERICA, WE honor the ideal of equality and the myth of equal opportunity—but the secret we refuse to acknowledge is the debilitating, dehumanizing effects of poverty. As a pastor serving the South Side of Chicago, I witness firsthand the pain that poverty inflicts upon our congregation and the scars it leaves on the most vulnerable: children. Faith in Christ should mean a commitment to the poor.
There is a growing wealth gap between African-American households and white households. A Pew research study, for example, shows the dramatic change between 2005 and 2009. In 2005, the typical white household had a net worth of $134,992 (in 2009 dollars), while the typical black household had a net worth of $12,124—9 cents for each dollar the white household owned. By 2009, that fell to 5 cents, as the typical black household saw its net worth drop more than 53 percent, as compared to a drop of 16 percent for the average white household. And, alarmingly, 35 percent of black households in 2009 had a zero or negative net worth.
A few seek to blame this damaging downward trend on the current administration's policies. This is unfair and incorrect. Black families have traditionally built wealth through homeownership, but since the mid-1990s we have witnessed a dramatic increase in bank mergers—and predatory lending. Local banks, now owned by large corporate institutions with little interest in community investment, increasingly close branches in poor communities, then check-cashing establishments fill the void in financial services. At the same time, our nation faces the loss of manufacturing and the dismantling of organized labor. The triple threat of regressive economic policy, unchecked expansion of large, unaccountable financial institutions, and the economic crisis of 2008 devastated parts of cities across the nation: Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Atlanta, New York, Buffalo, Flint, and many others.