Wealth Gap

Called to Lead, Bank Accounts Be Damned

 

SHE WAS MAD—fuming.

Thirteen black evangelical leaders rolled across Southern states on a speaking tour of historic black colleges and universities. On a mission to call forth the next generation of black leaders, we traversed the land where our ancestors had worked fingers to bone, drank from separate fountains, and cut loved ones down from trees like dead fruit.

But this is not what made Vera mad.

For the last hour a crowd of black leaders sat, stood, and leaned in as we shared our stories of barriers to advancement within white evangelical organizations. It wasn’t a mean-spirited conversation. It was a needed one—a healing one. Our stories were strikingly similar, even though none of us had worked in the same organization.

Within well-meaning white evangelical missions agencies, we had all been told that confirmation of our call to leadership would be discerned in part by our ability to raise money for the organization. Mind you, most of us had taken on debt to accept the low salaries offered by the white agencies. And most of us suffered economic isolation as we watched our white peers accept the same salaries but somehow take vacations and buy homes while we scrimped to pay rent.

Now, as our chartered bus eased its way through the narrow, tree-lined lanes at Dillard University in New Orleans, Vera said: “I’m mad at this conversation.”

Vera (we’ll call her that) was new to our traveling village, so I didn’t know how to read her anger. Did she feel our gripes were unjustified?

“I’m mad that this is exactly what I have been experiencing inside my own organization,” she continued. “I’ve tried to explain it to our leaders, but no one has heard me.”

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Occupy Good Pasture

Wall St., Delpixel / Shutterstock.com
Wall St., Delpixel / Shutterstock.com

The interesting thing about human nature is that even among the oppressed, people will seek supremacy, a pecking order. We human beings have great capacity for tenderness and compassion, and we’re also the meanest things in the world! And even when we are oppressed together, we will try to find some advantage or superiority over others.

“As for you, my flock, saith the Lord, I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture?” 

In other words: Do you have to get what’s yours and at the same time mess it up for others?

INFOGRAPHIC: The Racial Wealth Gap

Recent studies from both the Urban Institute and the Pew Forum tell the story of America's growing racial wealth gap. In the May issue of Sojourners magazine, Otis Moss III talked about the unjust trend: 

The call of the church has been, and always will be, to become the compassionate hands and feet of Christ. Poverty, when attached to race, is the original sin of America, a country built by slave labor and enriched by the unfair labor practices of the Industrial Revolution.

Read the full piece HERE.

See the full infographic at the jump.

Wealth Gap Among Races Widened Since Recession

Annie Lowrey reporter for the New York Times, writes about a new study released by the Urban Institute. The study found:

"The racial wealth gap yawned during the recession, even as the income gap between white Americans and nonwhite Americans remained stable. As of 2010, white families, on average, earned about $2 for every $1 that black and Hispanic families earned, a ratio that has remained roughly constant for the last 30 years."

However the wealth gap continues to grow.

"Before the recession, non-Hispanic white families, on average, were about four times as wealthy as nonwhite families, according to the Urban Institute’s analysis of Federal Reserve data. By 2010, whites were about six times as wealthy"

Read more here.

Wealth Inequality in America

While the rich become even richer, everyone else is getting poorer. Yet most people don’t even realize how wide the wealth gap is and underestimate the level of inequality in the U.S.

Rev. Otis Moss III sets the record straight in “The Growing Wealth Gap,” in the May 2013 issue of Sojourners magazine.

With the racial wealth gap reaching an all-time high, Rev. Moss urges Christians to act boldly against poverty—the “cruel thief of dreams.” Read more about this alarming trend here, and check out the infographic below.

 

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The Gathering Storm

Climate scientists have warned that climate change will bring about—and already is bringing about—more frequent and fiercer storms. But climate change leads to far more than just destructive weather patterns, with consequences in almost all aspects of our lives. Here are just a few of the many possible effects of our rising global temperature.

Natural disasters will increase.
Climate change increases the risk of natural disasters that disproportionately affect low-income people who lack the resources to prepare, recover, or relocate.

Food will be scarcer and more expensive.
Food prices increase as farmers face new levels of unpredictability in weather patterns. Drought and floods may cause widespread soil infertility and increased plant diseases.

We'll experience more drought—and floods.
Changes in weather patterns lead to both increased drought and flooding, because warmer air can hold more water. Many dry places will become drier, while others will be inundated with rain.

We'll get sicker.
Warmer temperatures broaden the geographic range of insects that carry deadly diseases such as malaria, affecting more people. Warm air holds pollution closer to the ground, increasing respiratory illness. Diseases such as AIDS, which are linked to migration, poverty, and malnutrition, may also increase.

Human trafficking will increase.
With increased migration and job loss from agricultural instability, populations—and especially women—become increasingly vulnerable. As traditional sources of income evaporate, the incentive to exploit others becomes higher.

Some will have to flee their homes.
As land becomes uninhabitable due to agricultural and water instability, flooding, disease, or the effects of natural disasters, more people will be forced to leave their homes to seek opportunity elsewhere.

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Economic Inequality: Should We Call It Sin?

Occupy protests in London. dutourdumonde / Shutterstock.com
Occupy protests in London. dutourdumonde / Shutterstock.com

While having lunch recently with Harvard Professor Robert D. Putnam, I was asked an interesting question.

Putnam is appalled at the radical lack of equality of opportunity in the U.S. today, and he wanted to know if evangelical preachers would dare to say what his pastor said when he was a teenager. Putnam told me that back then, in the midst of Martin Luther King’s great campaign against segregation, his devout Methodist pastor dared to preach that “racism is a sin.”

Professor Putnam asked me, as an evangelical, whether evangelical pastors today would be ready to declare today’s great economic inequality of opportunity a sin. That’s a great question.

Americans Nearly Unanimous on 'Ideal' Wealth Distribution, But Unaware of Real Levels of Inequality

This week's viral video is a must-see. The six-minute "Wealth Inequality in America," released Friday, presents the shocking, true size of the wealth gap in the country.

In a series of animated infographics, the video lends a visual punch to numbers that are hard to wrap one’s head around. The top 1 percent of Americans hold 50 percent of all investments in stocks and bonds, for example – while 80 percent of Americans share a paltry 7 percent of the nation’s wealth.

A Problem of Riches

Sixty of us gathered recently in a Chicago church basement for a program about the precarious U.S. economy. For almost two hours, we sat on clanky metal chairs discussing rising gas and food prices, home foreclosures, declining wages, increasing personal debt, and our fears for the future. Everyone knew the story: The economy is squeezing low-wage workers and pushing once-secure middle-class households into deep distress.

The discussion turned to solutions: living wage laws, expanded unionization, and increasing security and opportunity through low-cost college, matching savings programs, and assistance to first-time homebuyers. Then a woman wearing a colorful shawl commented that the problem was deeper, that “the wealthiest 1 percent now had a greater share of the nation’s wealth—and yet were paying less taxes.”

A young man in a Chicago Cubs baseball cap responded, “All this talk about the rich getting richer is a distraction. The key is to help everyone have the same opportunities. We shouldn’t be attacking the wealthy, especially with all the generous donations to charity.”

A lively exchange ensued. Can we reduce poverty, the group debated, without addressing inequality? Is the common good undermined by vast wealth concentrated in a few hands? Can we reduce unequal wealth without demonizing “rich people”? All good questions. All need answers—because our nation’s extreme inequality has become too staggering to go unexamined.

Most of the wealth and income gains of the last three decades, economists tell us, have flowed up to the wealthiest 1 percent of households, those with more than $5 million in assets. And within that affluent group, most gains have gone to the tiptop of the wealth pyramid, the 100,000 households that comprise our richest one-tenth of 1 percent. Last year, 7,500 households in the U.S. actually had annual incomes over $20 million.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2008
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