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Without Economic Fairness, There is No Justice or Peace

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

By Steve Aust, CMF Member and PJOS Committee


“The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” James 5: 4-5


“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of republics.” – Plutarch


“We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. But we can’t have both.” – Louis Brandeis


Research reveals:

  • According to a Congressional Budget Office study, the richest 1% of Americans earns 84 times more than the bottom 20%. The wealthiest 0.01% earn 1,807 times more than the lowest quintile of Americans.

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the average bonus paid to Wall Street stockbrokers has grown 1,743% from 1985 to 2022. Had the national minimum wage grown similarly, it would currently stand at $61.75 per hour. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage’s highest value was in 1968, when it was $12.22 compared to 2022 dollars.

  • According to 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, wages have risen 18.7% for the top 10% of earners, but only 4.3% for the bottom 10%.

Without a level economic playing field, the poor have little hope of providing financial stability for their families. What can the average person do to counteract a system that often further comforts the already comfortable and further torments the already afflicted?


As with addressing many problems, education is a powerful tool. To understand and empathize with the difficulties that the economically disadvantaged face, I recommend Nickel and Dimed by the late Barbara Ehrenreich. She goes “undercover” working as a server, and the tome she penned about her experience paints an unflinching picture of the challenges and indignities the working class face that pose roadblocks to advancement. (For more titles that address economic inequality, click here)


Of course, more than education is required to address an unequitable system. On a national scale, the Poor People’s Campaign, which PJOS Committee member Clair Hochstetter has long supported diligently, has for decades fought for a living wage for those with formidable financial struggles. Here are links for other organizations that support economic betterment for at-risk individuals and families:


Madisonville Education and Assistance Center (MEAC): MEAC offers access to fresh food, financial assistance with housing and utilities, and guidance and support to navigate community resources. To support the whole family, MEAC partners with ParentChild+, a national program bringing early literacy skills into the homes of toddlers, setting them up for success in preschool and beyond.


Santa Maria Community Center (SMCC): Helping economically challenged families since 1897, SMCC provides more than 2,500 individuals with educational tools and resources to build strong families, promote healthy residents, and foster neighborhood revitalization.


The Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF): GCF has provided multifaceted avenues of advocacy and support related to economic inequality, affordable housing, and racial justice since 1963.


Consider how you can simplify and recalibrate your life to help support those who continually face trying economic circumstances:


  • Is it possible for you to move into a smaller house, providing part of the sale proceeds from the downsize to an organization that serves the disadvantaged?

  • Is there a habit, such as a daily latte, you could curtail to allow donations to a nonprofit that helps create opportunities for low-wage workers?

  • Could you donate to your alma mater or a local university’s scholarship fund to help provide education for the needy?

  • Where could you make room in your life to help those on the lowest socioeconomic rungs lift themselves up?

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” (1 Corinthians 12: 4-6)


How can we continue this conversation and make a difference? Let’s chat.




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3 Comments


clair.hochstetler
Oct 03, 2023

Steve, this was an excellent write-up. Thank you! I echo Greta's comments above about the structure including the call to action. Everything you described above is central to the concerns and motivation for the Poor People's Campaign - A National Call For Moral Revival. I also want to mention that this year part of our PJOS outreach budget included sending a donation to the Santa Maria Community Center for the first time, which you highlighted above and in our PJOS discussions.

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Judy Vander Henst
Judy Vander Henst
Sep 27, 2023

I appreciate your raising this important concern as well as providing concrete actions we can take. There is so much inequity baked into our everyday lives. I am just reading an article that states, "When a customer with a rewards card makes a purchase, the swipe fee is usually even higher. So lower-income cash customers are effectively subsidizing the airline tickets, resort stays and other rewards that go to better-off card users...". The article explains this further. I also note the Anabaptist World that just arrived in my mailbox with their focus on "The Gift of Simplicity". I agree we need to continue to keep this at the forefront as we discuss how we can better promote peace and justice…

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gholt1
Sep 21, 2023

Steve, the structure of your message is perfect: biblical quotes, statistics, message, and call to action.

Nickel and Dimed made me so nerve-racked that I sold it to Half-Price Books before I finished it. Sitting with poverty is terrifying. Period.

In his series, 30 Days, Morgan Spurlock shows us working-person's poverty: minimum wage, no access to generational wealth, credit cards, or health insurance. He forces us to imagine a lifetime of it. Exhausting as well as limiting.

Thank you for this thoughtful and helpful piece.

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