Economic Justice

Patrick O'Neill 2-27-2017

JUST AFTER LUNCH, Eulalia Francisco shows Molly Hemstreet two pieces of white elastic bands, one of them slated for use as waistbands in a batch of woolen children’s pajamas being cut and sewed by the North Carolina-based, worker-owned cooperative Opportunity Threads.

Francisco, who had just two years of formal schooling in her native Guatemala, has noticed the elastic recommended for the sewing job is not the best choice for these pajamas. She recommends another elastic band.

Francisco is “our master sewer,” says Hemstreet, founder of Opportunity Threads, who agrees with Francisco’s suggestion and immediately orders the correct elastic.

After four years together, Francisco and Hemstreet, both worker-owners of Opportunity Threads, have a strong, trust-based working relationship. Hemstreet, an Episcopalian, earns the same wage as the other worker-owners and sees Opportunity Threads as having a spiritual component. “Before I met my husband, I thought deeply about going into cloistered work,” Hemstreet says. “I think of that whole thing of prayer and work, and that’s how I come here every day. We’re not making icons, but we’re doing work, and we do things in a joyful, prayerful way.”

The co-op grew from humble beginnings. After completing degrees in Spanish and Latin American studies at Duke University, Hemstreet moved with her husband, Francisco Risso, back to her hometown of Morganton, N.C., to open a Catholic Worker House. The local chicken plant hires many Latinos, but the work is hard and tedious, the pay not nearly a livable wage. So Hemstreet, with no formal training in business, explored the world of cooperatives, thinking it might be a good path to more meaningful and dignified employment for the Latino community.

Rose Marie Berger 10-25-2016
Northfoto / Shutterstock.com

Northfoto / Shutterstock.com

I OPENED MY first savings account at Wells Fargo in Sacramento, Calif., when I was 8 years old. I remember the bronze stagecoach penny bank they gave me to help me practice saving. When I moved to Washington, D.C., I put my money into a D.C.-based bank, soon bought out by Wells Fargo. But it wasn’t the same Wells Fargo I’d grown up with.

In 2012, the Justice Department found Wells Fargo guilty of discriminating against both African-American and Latino borrowers during the subprime mortgage heist. It’s one of the top two banks invested in the Corrections Corporation of America, which is one of the largest for-profit prison companies in the U.S. In 2015, Wells Fargo was the world’s largest bank.

This fall, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, who abruptly resigned in October, was called before a congressional investigative committee to answer accusations that thousands of Wells Fargo employees secretly opened 2 million fraudulent accounts without customers’ permission or knowledge, and were incentivized by the company to do so. Employees opened false banking and credit card accounts, transferred funds, and created phony access codes and email addresses. “The frauds violate federal and state statutes against bank fraud and identity theft,” William K. Black Jr., white-collar criminologist and cofounder of Bank Whistleblowers United, told Sojourners. Customers incurred charges and fines; in some cases, their credit ratings were damaged.

CEO Stumpf accepted “full responsibility for all unethical sales practices in our retail banking business.” (John Steinbeck once called this kind of thing a successful combination of “piracy and puritanism.”)

Wells Fargo claims that it has fired 5,300 people since 2011 related to these practices, but details are vague; the fraud investigators were hired by Wells Fargo. We don’t know how many were fired because they couldn’t fulfill the extortionate sales quotas.

Image via /Shutterstock.com

Amos saw that economic exploitation takes many forms. Sometimes it might even appear as a shiny new app. For Amos, “socioeconomic reorganization without compassion is not acceptable.” Nearly 3,000 years later in today’s gig economy, the same must be true for us.

6-16-2015
As Jeb Bush begins his presidential campaign, the Circle of Protection is asking him what he would do to help hungry and poor people if elected.
6-16-2015
As Donald Trump launches his presidential campaign today, the Circle of Protection is asking him what he would do to help hungry and poor people if elected.
Adam Ericksen 6-14-2015
Diana Robinson / Flickr.com

American Pharoah ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza wins the Triple Crown at Belmont on June 6. Photo by Diana Robinson/Flickr.com

After winning the Triple Crown, American Pharoah’s jockey, Victor Espinoza, showed that he doesn’t live in fear of losing his power. And, as opposed to the Egyptian Pharaoh, he showed he has a soft heart for those who are suffering.

Espinoza reportedly earned $80,000 for his victory at the Belmont Stakes and he’s giving it all away. “I won the Triple Crown right now,” he stated, “but I don’t make any money because I’m donating all the money to the City of Hope.” The City of Hope is a cancer research and treatment center. Espinoza also donates his time at the City of Hope, visiting with children struck by cancer. He says, “The kids [are] 6 years old, 10 years old, it’s just heartbreaking.” Why does he do it? “I just saw one kid with the disease and that’s how I changed my life. I changed the way I think. Pretty much I changed everything … the first change I made was in my heart.”

6-08-2015
As Lincoln Chafee begins his presidential campaign, the Circle of Protection is asking him what he would do to help and provide opportunity for hungry and poor people if elected.
6-08-2015
The Circle of Protection today asked Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry what he would do to help and provide opportunity for hungry and poor people if elected.
6-01-2015
As Lindsey Graham begins his presidential campaign, the Circle of Protection is asking him what he would do to provide help and opportunity for hungry and poor people if elected.
6-01-2015
As Martin O’Malley begins his presidential campaign, the Circle of Protection is asking him what he would do to provide help and opportunity for hungry and poor people if elected.
5-29-2015
As George Pataki launches his presidential campaign, the Circle of Protection is asking him what he would do to provide help and opportunity for hungry and poor people if elected.
5-27-2015
As Rick Santorum launches his presidential campaign, the Circle of Protection is asking him what he would do to provide help and opportunity for hungry and poor people if elected.
5-26-2015
We are all poorer because of the 45 million people who live in poverty. It is possible to change this picture, but first we must change our consciousness.
5-26-2015
For those of us who are Christians, let's make that choice--between the theology of Fox and the theology of Jesus.
Jim Wallis 5-21-2015

During a broad conversation on how to overcome poverty at Georgetown University last week, President Barack Obama made a few comments about how Fox News talks about poor people. Here’s what he said:

“ … over the last 40 years, sadly, I think there’s been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top, or to be mad at folks at the bottom. And I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leeches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving, got traction. … I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu — they will find folks who make me mad … They’re like, I don’t want to work, I just want a free Obama phone — or whatever. And that becomes an entire narrative … very rarely do you hear an interview of a waitress — which is much more typical — who’s raising a couple of kids and is doing everything right but still can’t pay the bills.

the Web Editors 5-20-2015
Image via Dan Holm/shutterstock.com

Image via Dan Holm/shutterstock.com

The city council of Los Angeles agreed to draft a plan to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 on Tuesday, the LA Times reports.

The plan would raise minimum wage by $6 — from $9 an hour to $15 — by 2020 for some 800,000 workers.

Not all are in favor of the plan, according to the LA Times

The council’s decision is part of a broader national effort to alleviate poverty, said Maria Elena Durazo, former head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Raising the wage in L.A., she said, will help spur similar increases in other parts of the country.

Some labor leaders have expressed dissatisfaction with the gradual timeline elected leaders set for raising base wages. But on Tuesday the harshest criticism of the law came from business groups, which warned lawmakers that the mandate would force employers to lay off workers or leave the city altogether.

“The very people [council members’] rhetoric claims to help with this action, it's going to hurt,” said Ruben Gonzalez, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president for public policy and political affairs.

Los Angeles joins Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle in raising the wage in recent months. Read more here.

Jarrod McKenna 5-19-2015
Image via Ollyy/shutterstock.com

Image via Ollyy/shutterstock.com

So our First Home Project car was stolen, and was recently found by the police. (Yay!) 

Unfortunately it now has more graffiti in it than a public toilet. (Booo.)

We use it to teach people how to drive so they can get a job and build a new life. (Yay!!!)

Judging by the damage to the car's front, side, and back, looks like these young locals could have done with a few driving lessons themselves. (Booo.)

Fortunately the spare tire is still in the boot. (Yay!)

Unfortunately it's now covered in what looks like dry blood. (Booo. ...And a serious amount of "What the!?!" and "Lord have mercy!") 

5-15-2015
This week, Washington saw a high-profile example of another new way conservative evangelicals and Catholics are teaming up in public more — a summit around poverty.
Greg Williams 5-14-2015
Image via Kukhmar/shutterstock.com

Image via Kukhmar/shutterstock.com

Robert Putnam, who spoke this Monday at Georgetown for the Catholic-Evangelical Summit on Overcoming Poverty, gives a great stump speech for poor kids who are falling through the cracks in our society. So much so that moderator John Carr described Putnam as an Old Testament prophet with charts — Isaiah, with a good grasp of Powerpoint.

Our culture has been terrible at providing opportunities to poor children. Putnam’s data finds that poor children have fewer chances to do well in school and less parental involvement, and are generally isolated from society and even from church. With this background, we shouldn’t be surprised that children who are born into poverty have trouble finishing college and building a stable, prosperous life.

Putnam calls this the "chief moral crisis of our time." 

Photo via giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Photo via giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

The Rev. Martin Schlag is a trained economist as well as a Catholic moral theologian, and when he first read some of Pope Francis’ powerful critiques of the current free market system he had the same thought a lot of Americans did: “Just horrible.”

But at a meeting on May 11 at the Harvard Club, Schlag, an Austrian-born priest who teaches economics at an Opus Dei-run university in Rome, reassured a group of Catholics, many from the world of business and finance, that Francis’ views on capitalism aren’t actually as bad as he feared.

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