Category Archives: Income

We Are Truly One Body

We Are Truly One Body

Economic Interdependence Shows the Depth of Our Connection to One Another
Sister Simone Campbell
August 22, 2019

One of my favorite spiritual realities is that we are the body of God. All of us together make up the image of the Divine. We have different parts to play in the body, but we all serve in order to allow the other parts to function fully.

This image came to mind as I was at one of our rural roundtable listening sessions. Folks were talking about the challenge of being a farmer and only getting income once or twice a year when you sell your crops. This means that (unless you have other income) you have to stretch that money across the whole year. Dairy farmers around the table spoke up and said that in the dairy business they are paid more regularly because they sell their milk every day. For them, however, the challenge is that milk prices are so low that it is almost impossible to stay in business. The way the dairy farmers talked, it was faithfulness to their cattle that kept them going.

These farmers told us one of the big deterrents to family farms is the fact that many bills, like healthcare premiums, come on a monthly basis. This system is designed to work for salaried employees but not farmers.

I began to see that other businesses in farming communities then have different business models depending on how well the crops do on the market or the price of milk. Farming communities live, by necessity, in an interdependent economy of which I as a life-long “city person” was unaware.

As the conversation continued, I realized the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is an essential boost to rural economies. When families receive their tax returns, they can make purchases at local businesses that they would not otherwise be able to afford. This boosts the local economy and supports families.

It is this interrelationship that makes me know the living, breathing reality that we are one body. We are profoundly connected both economically and socially. The Earned Income Tax Credit, and the ways we organize our tax code, are one specific instance where we can see this interdependence.

This same reality of community interdependence exists in our nation’s urban areas, but it is more difficult to see because of the size of the economy. In areas with larger economies, the EITC’s impact for the families that receive it is significant, but businesses are less likely to notice a distinct impact. Still, the impact is there.

However, while the Earned Income Tax Credit aims to supplement low-wage earners’ income and succeeds on many counts, there are some gaping holes in the system. The EITC as it is currently designed leaves out childless adults as well as people who earn less than $3,000 in a year from salaried employment. Those who fall into these categories and are left out are struggling mightily to thrive and flourish in our nation. AND small businesses in their communities are struggling too. This is how we are “one body” in our nation. We are interconnected.

For this reason, we at NETWORK believe we must expand the Earned Income Tax Credit. Doing so will benefit families and entire communities. The benefit is felt most directly in rural communities, but it is also true in cities and suburban neighborhoods. We are connected in this one body.

Therefore, we are working with partner organizations, Members of Congress, our NETWORK members, and advocates across the country to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and other tax credits to benefit families who are working but still not getting by in our nation. We are advocating for a tax policy that does a better job of helping the households and communities most in need. The one, interconnected body of our nation requires everyone to flourish for our nation to succeed. Federal policy should ensure that all of our families can live in dignity. Expanding the EITC would be one more step towards meeting our communal duty to our neighbors.

This communal duty is at the heart of the Gospel call to love one another. Oh one body, let us respond to the needs of our sisters and brothers and make this change for the common good.


This story was originally published in the July 2019 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue.

Raise the Wage Act Will Positively Impact Workers

Raise the Wage Act Will Positively Impact Workers

Elisa McCartin
July 11, 2019

This week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its report on H.R. 582, the Raise the Wage Act. This legislation would gradually increase the U.S. federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024 and would further eliminate the tipped wage of $2.13 by gradually raising it to meet the federal minimum wage of $15 an hour. NETWORK strongly supports this bill as it would substantially reduce income inequality and poverty across the United States. The CBO report highlights the numerous ways this bill will benefit low-income workers, as outlined by the Economic Policy Institute.

Some groups have responded to the CBO report by pulling out selective data chosen to alarm the public about the costs of raising the minimum wage. We believe, however, that the data supports our stance in favor of raising the wage. According to the report, 27 million low-income workers’ wages would increase with a $15 minimum wage. Low-wage workers would see their annual earrings rise by $44 billion by 2025. Moreover, a $15 minimum wage would lift 1.3 million people out of poverty. This bill will have a profound impact on reducing rampant inequality in the U.S. by raising the wages of the lowest-income workers.

The CBO report further demonstrates that the benefits of this bill greatly outweigh potential costs. Even accounting for their prediction of some job losses, the CBO concluded that the average low-wage worker would earn $1,600 more per year. The CBO’s job loss prediction was also based on faulty methodology that focused primarily on subgroups of workers like restaurant employees. Studies that look holistically at the low-wage workforce find that a $15 minimum wage does not reduce employment.

Research conducted by the Quarterly Journal of Economics found that across 138 state-level minimum wage increases, there were no measurable employment losses. For example, between 1979 and 2016, states with the highest minimum wage increases experienced no negative employment effects. Minimum wage increases at the city-level have had no detrimental impact on restaurant employment levels. In 1968, when the U.S. had its highest minimum wage adjusted for inflation, there was no adverse impact on employment. Thus, while the CBO’s central estimate predicted some job losses, its other “likely” estimates projected that there may be no job losses as a result of a $15 minimum wage in 2025.

Even if the CBO’s job loss predictions were fully accurate, a $15 minimum wage would still tremendously benefit low-wage workers. According the CBO, 7% of the lowest-wage workers could face job losses, while 93% would earn 12% more an hour. An additional 10.3 million people would earn above $15 an hour by 2025 with no employment reductions. Furthermore, because jobs will pay higher wages, even workers experiencing “job-losses” would likely have higher annual incomes due to wage increases. The CBO acknowledged that families may be able to cut back working hours or the number of jobs per family with higher wages, contributing to these “job-loss” statistics. Thus, these job-loss numbers are best interpreted as fewer hours worked throughout the year because there will be a reduced need to work extreme hours to make a living wage.

NETWORK and our partners are incredibly proud to support the Raise the Wage Act. For decades, the U.S. workforce has been exploited under a system that fails to guarantee workers a living wage. The Raise the Wage Act is a first step in truly transforming our economy into a moral economy.


Elisa McCartin is a NETWORK volunteer and student at Georgetown University.

Trump Administration Seeks to Re-Define the Poverty Line

Trump Administration Seeks to Re-Define the Poverty Line 

Elisa McCartin
July 10, 2019

The Trump administration is escalating its attacks against working families and using the power of the executive branch to implement their agenda unilaterally. This circumvents the legislative process and is a rejection of the legislative branch’s power 

How Agency Rule Changes Work 

Our many federal agencies create and implement policies that have profound impacts on our nation. Members of President Trump’s cabinet can direct the agencies to alter their policies and procedures by proposing specific rule changes. The agencies are required to give citizens and organizations a specified time period (usually 30-60 days) to comment on proposed changes before the agency is allowed to make a final rule. The agency must consider every comment before they implement their decision. These comments are often the only means the public has to check the power of these rule changes.  

After a rule change goes into effect, people or organizations can then challenge the agencies in court and the agencies must prove they considered every argument in every submitted comment. Because of this requirement, NETWORK and many of our partners have submitted comments on the harmful proposed rule changes the Trump administration has been rolling out in various federal agencies. We encourage our members to keep track of these sly and underhanded harmful policy proposals and submit comments to prevent or at the very least, stall, the Trump administration from enacting more damaging policies without Congressional approval.  

Proposed Poverty Line Rule Change 

One proposed rule change that NETWORK and many other advocacy organizations submitted comments to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) about would alter the inflation measurement used to determine the U.S. poverty line. The Official Poverty Measure (OPM) in the U.S. is calculated based on three times the estimated cost of a subsistence food budget for an average family, and adjusted for inflation each year. The OMB usually uses the Urban Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) as the inflation adjustment mechanism. The OMB’s proposed rule would mandate a switch from using the CPI-U to the chained Consumer Price Index (C-CPI-U) or the Personal Consumption Expenditure Price Index (PCEPI). The inflation index the OMB uses to adjust the poverty line is extremely important because it will alter families’ eligibility for social programs.  

Both proposed alternative inflation indices—the chained CPI and the PCEPI—underestimate inflation. The CBO reports that the chained CPI grows 0.25 percentage points slower than the CPI-U. This is because the chained CPI and PCEPI account for when consumers substitute goods for one another in the marketplace based on price increases. However, low-income families do not have the level of economic flexibility where they can exchange goods for one another, thus making this measurement inaccurate. Moreover, low-income families feel inflation more severely than middle and high-income families. Low-income people spend a larger percentage of their income on housing, and home rents have risen at double the inflation rate. Using indices that underestimate the inflation rate to determine the poverty line is an utterly inaccurate measure of the costs low-income families face. These should not be used to calculate the poverty line in the U.S.  Our principles of Catholic Social Justice teach us to prioritize the needs of those at the economic margins. This proposed rule denies the fundamental realities of people struggling to make ends meet. 

Furthermore, this move would have devastating effects of people who currently qualify for federal programs. The Center of Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) calculated that switching to the chained CPI would lower the poverty line by 2.0% and using the PCEPI would reduce the poverty line by 3.4%. This dramatic reduction would prevent millions of individuals and families from receiving benefits and social services, as they would no longer be eligible even though their actual economic status remains unchanged. As a result, the CBPP projects that more than 250,000 senior citizens would no longer qualify for Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy, 150,000 seniors would have to pay premiums exceeding $1,500 per year, 300,000 children would lose medical coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), 250,000 adults who gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would lose it, and 150,000 consumers would no longer receive cost-sharing assistance in ACA marketplaces.  

The U.S. poverty line is already too low—20% of people living in the U.S. do not meet one or more of nine basic need standards. This change would strip millions of life-saving supports, compounding the already severe impacts of poverty, homelessness, and hunger in our society. As people of faith, we are called to support those in need—not further entrench vulnerable families in poverty. 

NETWORK believes that it is our obligation to prevent the catastrophic effects of this proposed rule. The Trump administration is circumventing the legislative branch where citizens have more influence, amplifying the need to closely follow and comment on agency rule changes spearheaded by Trump Cabinet members. Although the period for submitting comments on this rule has closed, it is our imperative to continue tracking OMB’s decision making, to hold the executive branch accountable to the people, and to advocate for policies that mend the gaps 

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Elisa McCartin is a NETWORK volunteer and student at Georgetown University. 

The GAP Index: An Important Measure for Our Future

The GAP Index: An Important Measure for Our Future

Did you hear the great news?  At the end of April the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released its “advance” estimate of economic growth for the first quarter of 2019: Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased 3.2 percent!1  To put that in perspective, in the last quarter of 2018, real GDP only increased 2.2 percent.  So by all accounts, the U.S. economy is thriving and strong, right? Not exactly.

BEA produces some of the most closely watched economic statistics that influence decisions of government officials, business people, and individuals.  The most familiar and hackneyed is the GDP—it provides a great talking point but minimal insights for policymakers. Nonetheless, policy decisions continue to be based on promised GPD growth gains.

The problem is that the real GDP measurement doesn’t comprise “all accounts.” This single top-line number conceals a less-rosy and complicated reality in which the richest three Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 50% of the country. While CEO pay rose 8 percent on average in 2018 to $7.4 million, the average median wages for employees at the same companies stayed about the same. And the CEOs made about 150 times what a typical worker did last year.2

GDP measures national economic growth, which combines inputs like jobs, savings, business opportunity, consumption and profits into such a macro-level snapshot that it has little significance for the daily, lived reality of average people.

Overdependence on GDP as the primary measure of our economic health is not only misleading, it distracts us from arguably more pressing issues. The pervasive and damaging myth that “growth is always good” relegates economic inequality as an unfortunate feature of economic growth or, even worse, as a necessary side effect. This myopic focus on maintaining endless growth even at the expense of the lived reality has damaging implications. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis posits that the near exclusive focus on economic growth and ever-increasing consumption as solutions to social problems is a fundamental cause of global crisis and economic injustice.

NETWORK hosted “Town Halls for Tax Justice” during our Nuns on the Bus tour in 2018. To begin the town halls, Sisters role-played individuals along the spectrum of income (one character, Diana, was among the lowest 20% of income earners while another, George, was in the top 1% of earners). After introducing themselves and talking about their financial hopes and concerns, each character took steps forward (or backward) based on how much their income bracket experienced growth over the past 35 years. The physical gap between the richest and poorest widened significantly based on the economic impacts of trickle-down policies since the 1980s. Then each character took additional steps depending on the tax return that they could anticipate under the 2017 Tax Law, creating an even larger divide.

According to audience feedback, these Town Halls were eye-opening and impactful—the breakdowns demonstrated how policies are making the rich richer while the poor and middle class fall further and further behind. We need our government to begin quantifying and regularly reporting on these dynamics of economic growth. With the data analysis capabilities available to us in the 21st Century there’s no reason we cannot have a meaningful economic measure generated to capture this each quarter.

GDP 2.0—what NETWORK calls the “GAP Index”—is a campaign to change how the United States reports economic progress. Instead of a one-number release, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis might instead release four or more numbers describing growth for those at different levels of income. Eventually, the agency might also break down growth benefits by demographic or geographic characteristics. Such quarterly reports would dramatically change the narrative around economic growth and stability by refocusing our statistics on the lived experience of the average individual or family in the United States.

The U.S. Government already has the necessary data; three simple policy fixes would enable the BEA to generate GDP 2.0 data and report it on a quarterly basis:

  • Require BEA to include distributional breakdowns in its aggregate income tables.
  • Make IRS tax return data accessible to the BEA under section 6103(j)(B) of the tax code.
  • A small increase in BEA funding to create capacity for these new statistics.

Congress is working on dual tracks to make this a reality: legislatively and via the appropriations process.  Legislatively, The Measuring Real Income Growth Act has been sponsored by Senators Chuck Schumer and Martin Heinrich as well as Representative Carolyn Maloney. Concurrently, there are efforts to incorporate the recommended policy fixes into the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations legislation which ultimately funds the BEA.

Having a quarterly Gap Index could have profound political impacts, because the new data will enable economists, interest groups, and scholars to produce studies showing how various groups are faring as the economy grows. Richer economic measures like GDP 2.0 allow law-makers and advocates like NETWORK to more clearly show how policies diminish or contribute to inequality in our nation.

Paid Leave Proposals Shouldn’t Slash Social Security

Paid Leave Proposals Shouldn’t Slash Social Security

Siena Ruggeri
May 2, 2019

We are at a rare moment of bipartisan agreement on the importance of paid leave. The Trump administration has expressed support for the idea of paid family leave, and suggests six weeks of paid parental leave in its 2020 budget proposal.  Senators Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney’s New Parents Act (S.920) offers a leave option for new parents. Senators Joni Ernst and Mike Lee have introduced the Child Rearing and Development Leave (CRADLE) Act, a discussion draft that is very similar to the Rubio bill. Finally, Senators Bill Cassidy and Kyrsten Sinema are collaborating on a bipartisan paid leave proposal.

While there is hope in the bipartisan enthusiasm for paid leave, the details of these proposals are highly concerning. We must be diligent in informing our members of Congress what a truly robust paid leave program looks like.

These proposals have a narrow view of what constitutes paid leave. The proposals would only offer leave for parents caring for a new child through birth or adoption. While this type of leave is important, family leave is used for many other reasons. Three out of four workers have a caregiving responsibility, and a lack of paid leave makes it incredibly difficult for them to remain financially secure while providing the care their family members need. If a worker has a child with a disability, an aging parent, or a spouse with a serious illness, they would not be covered under these proposals. Paid leave legislation is not family-friendly unless it addresses all the types of caregiving situations workers live with.

When looking closely at the funding of these proposals, it becomes apparent that the paid leave is not responsibly paid for. Both the New Parents Act and the CRADLE Act are funded by cuts to Social Security. In order to access their “paid leave,” new parents have to borrow from their Social Security benefits. As a result, parents would have to either delay their retirement by half a year or take a 3% overall cut to their lifetime benefits. Working parents already lose an estimated $10,513 in wages for taking 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Instead of addressing this problem, the proposed legislation punishes working parents in a different way by cutting their benefits. Cuts to Social Security are irresponsible and unacceptable.

These legislative proposals ignore how women and people of color, are most impacted by paid leave policies. Of the estimated 43.5 million unpaid caregivers, 60% are women. Among Millennial caregivers, over half are people of color. These populations are taking on the most caregiving responsibilities yet face pay and benefits cuts for doing so. Due to structural barriers in the workplace, 73% of Latinx and 62% of Black workers qualify for FMLA yet cannot afford to take it. These proposals do nothing to remedy these disparities. Instead of addressing the wealth gap, workplace discrimination, and unpaid labor caregivers face, these proposals force them to make more impossible choices between work and family.

We must reach out to the writers of these proposals and emphasize that family-friendly workplace legislation must be comprehensive and responsibly funded. The FAMILY Act provides a self-sustaining family and medical leave fund that includes all types of caregiving. Instead of taking away Social Security benefits, it is funded by a modest payroll tax that costs employees $1.50 a month. If Congress wants to improve workplaces for families, any reform must be universal, inclusive, and responsibly funded.

 

Feature image courtesy of Demos

Attending the White Privilege Conference

Attending the White Privilege Conference

Alannah Boyle
March 28, 2019

This past week, my colleague Laura Peralta-Schulte and I had the opportunity to travel to Cedar Rapids, Iowa and represent NETWORK at the 20th annual White Privilege Conference. This conference was founded to examine the ideas of privilege and oppression and create space to work towards building strategies for a more equitable world.

For those of you participating in our Lenten reflection guide, you know that this Lent we are Recommitting to Racial Justice. The past two weeks, the reflections in the guide have been produced from our educational workshop on the racial wealth and income gap. We examine 12 federal policies and reflect on the ways in which each policy worked in order to create and perpetuate the racial wealth gap that exists today. Laura and I facilitated this workshop to over 50 other attendees. The reception was overwhelmingly positive. It is always exciting to spread the good work that NETWORK is doing to new audiences.

This was the second year that NETWORK staff have attended this conference. The presentations we attended ranged on topics from compassion as anti-oppression work, to the intersections of patriarchy and white supremacy, to embodied racial justice. Laura and I attended different presentations each session with the goal of gathering as much information in those four days as possible to bring back to the rest of our NETWORK community.

As I work to put my reactions into words for this blog, my thoughts and feelings after attending this conference, I am realizing the ways in which I am very much still processing the experience and all of the wisdom and expertise that was shared with me as a white person. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to attend this conference, and the ways in which NETWORK intentionally makes space for the ongoing work of racial justice amongst staff members.

Faith Community Supports Back Pay for Federal Contractors

Faith Community Supports Back Pay for Federal Contractors

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
February 8, 2019

This week, NETWORK joined fellow faith organizations asking Members of Congress to provide back pay to federal contractors who were unable to work and receive their paychecks during the five-week partial government shutdown. Without legislation from Congress providing this back pay, federal contract workers will suffer the most as other federal workers return to work and receive back pay for the weeks they were furloughed.

Read the letter below or as a PDF here.


February 4, 2019

Dear Members of Congress:

We write as faith-based organizations and religious bodies representing Jewish, Christian, Muslim and other faith traditions to urge you to support efforts to secure back pay for employees of federal contractors who were unpaid during the recent government shutdown. All of our faith traditions uphold the critical importance of the dignity of work and the obligation of employers to compensate workers for their efforts. Just as Congress rightly provided back pay for federal employees who were furloughed or unpaid during the shutdown, Congress should also provide back pay for the contract employees who face extreme financial hardship because they went more than a month without their paychecks.

Over the past few decades, the federal government has contracted out more and more of the jobs and functions it used to perform. For every federal worker hired, there are nearly double the number of contract workers hired, reaching about 3.7 million according to 2015 estimates from the Volcker Alliance. These jobs include the women and men who clean federal buildings, staff cafeterias and concession stands, who process payments, and who provide vital tech support to federal agencies.

These federal contract workers help keep our nation running even when their paychecks aren’t cut directly by the U.S. government, and they need their paychecks just as badly as federal employees. Many of these workers are struggling right now to pay their bills for necessities like food, medicine and housing. They deserve to be paid.

As Congress negotiates a deal to secure funding for the rest of the fiscal year, we urge you to do everything within your power to provide back pay for the contract workers throughout this country who have suffered just as grave a financial injury as federal employees during this shutdown. Equity and justice demands they too receive compensation for the injuries they suffered.

Sincerely,

National Council of Jewish Women
The Episcopal Church
Interfaith Worker Justice
The United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society
First Universalist Church of Auburn, Unitarian Universalist
Union for Reform Judaism
Ecumenical Poverty Initiative
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
American Baptist Home Mission Societies
Faith in Public Life
Office of Public Witness
Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US Provinces
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Alliance of Baptists

Rural Roundtable: New Mexico

Rural Roundtable: New Mexico

Erin Sutherland
January 28, 2019

Two weeks ago, Sr. Simone and I traveled to New Mexico to facilitate NETWORK’s first-ever Rural Roundtable.  The idea for a Rural Roundtable came when NETWORK realized that while we have a good understanding of how federal policies impact people in the urban and suburban areas, we needed to gain a better understanding of the lived realities for people in rural areas to be better advocates for the 100%.  The stops on some Nuns on the Bus tours had been in rural areas, but we wanted to make a more intentional commitment to specific communities by building upon events we would already be having in the state.

The day after we arrived, Sr. Simone and I spent the morning meeting with residents from the Laguna Pueblo.  We visited St. Joseph Mission School in San Fidel, NM, where we met 40 amazing students and staff who are actively committed to learning about and rectifying the environmental and health damage that was a result of decades of uranium mining.  Merrick, an eighth grade student, showed us a video he had made that  recently won first place in a regional competition.  The video featured the story of his grandmother, who had worked in the Jack Pile uranium mine and now has pulmonary-related health problems.  In the coming year, the entire school was planning to test their water for uranium, and the eighth-grade class was planning to travel to the University of Notre Dame to present their findings.  In the midst of such mature and thoughtful leadership and community engagement, it was heartbreaking to think of the health effects that these students and their families could face because of reckless extractive policies.

Later that night, we convened our roundtable in Albuquerque and spoke with service providers and community leaders from women’s health, childcare, rural dental care, indigenous communities, food security, and immigration sectors.  During our two-hour long conversation, Tina Cordova of Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium described the decades-long treatment of New Mexico as a “sacrifice zone” where corporations and government agencies have come in and extracted resources and conducted tests with little regard for the residents.  New Mexico has an endowment fund that is mostly invested and managed out of state.  Another community member described how this treatment has affected people’s view of their self-worth: if your government treats your community like it’s dispensable and not worth the investment, you eventually start to believe it.

As I reflect on everything I learned during my trip to New Mexico, it is empathy for all those who feel forgotten or left behind by their government that has stayed with me.  It is my faith, which upholds the dignity and value of every human life, coupled with my patriotism for “We the People,” that firms my resolve that everyone deserves to feel and be treated like a valuable member of society.  One thing Sr. Simone does so well is to help people move past helplessness and despair and towards hopeful action.  At NETWORK, this first roundtable gave  us an opportunity to reflect on how we can lobby for policies that will include the 100%- not just the people with whom it is easiest to engage.  This experience has given me and NETWORK an opportunity to listen more, listen first before acting, and then to act with intentional inclusion.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to have gone to New Mexico and to have met with so many amazing activists  heavily invested in bettering their communities.

To see more photos from the Rural Roundtable in New Mexico, click here

Reflection: Paying Our Union Dues, Then Heading South

Reflection: Paying Our Union Dues, Then Heading South

Sister Michele Morek, OSU
October 12, 2018

This post originally appeared on the Global Sisters Report website.

The Nuns on the Bus canvass Las Vegas neighborhoods with members of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 on Oct. 10. (Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice / Colleen Ross)

 

Si, se puede! U-nion! U-nion! 2-2-6! 2-2-6! We vote, we win!

We got right into the spirit of the vigorous chants of the members of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

After a long drive from California, we joined them Tuesday afternoon for a meeting with a large group in the union hall, listening to the issues they have with some of the casino owners. Most of the big casinos have come to an agreement with the workers on living wages and benefits, but there are still a few holdouts. The workers suspect it is not lack of funds that stands in the way — one owner just spent over $20 million on a daughter’s wedding. (One of the workers whispered into my ear that $2 million of it was for the cake!)

There are about 50,000 workers in the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which includes food service industry workers in the big casinos and hotels as well as people in housekeeping and other aspects of the industry. Of these, 54 percent are women and 55 percent are Latino. There are workers from 173 countries who speak 40 languages. That they can organize themselves at all under those circumstances is a minor miracle, and that they have managed to do it so effectively is a major miracle! They have some talented and dedicated leaders.

Members of Culinary Workers Union Local 226 rally Oct. 10 in Las Vegas to hear us talk about the tour and about our support of their work before we all left for canvassing. (Provided photo)

I talked to one leader, Rashauna, who had taken a three-month “political leave” to work at turning out the vote for a candidate known to be more friendly to unions; she and many more had sacrificed their $20-per-hour earnings for $12 with the assurance of continued employment at the end of their leave thanks to the union. Their enthusiasm, love and respect and support of each other was inspiring to all of us.

It had been a long and exhausting day, so we were glad to see our rooms at the end of the second day: rooms at one of the less expensive casinos on the old Las Vegas Strip. There are no motherhouses or big convents in Las Vegas, and the casinos like to lure customers in with inexpensive rooms and food!

As tired as we were, there were some who ventured out to see the bright lights, and one sister even found a zip line to try. In spite of a few bleary eyes, we were at the union hall bright and early the next morning for our adventure in canvassing.

Sr. Michele Morek, OSU, left, and Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, show off their red shirts from the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 for canvassing Las Vegas neighborhoods (Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice / Colleen Ross)

We helped prepare packets and distributed ourselves among the groups going out to canvass the neighborhoods to push their candidates for the 2018 midterm elections and urge everyone to get out the vote. First, the leaders outfitted us with red shirts and hats and assigned us to teams. That was after a few more rousing choruses of “Si, se puede!” and “U-nion! 2-2-6!” and “We vote, we win!”

After we returned to the union hall and the workers signed the bus, we left Nevada, eating lunch on the bus, not for the first time. What gorgeous desert and mountain scenery! We enjoyed seeing Lake Mead and going across the Hoover Dam into Arizona; when we saw our first saguaro cactus and Joshua trees, we knew we were ready for our next adventure in Phoenix.

We are educating ourselves by site visits and talking with people; that’s part of the listening mission of Nuns on the Bus. But we are also determined to educate people about what the tax policy really means for real people and to encourage them to use tax policy as one of the most important norms of who should get their vote.

Each day, we begin with half an hour of prayer together: once in a motherhouse chapel, once in an unused convent chapel, once in a convent community room, and once in Sr. Simone Campbell’s hotel room at the casino. That and a cup of coffee gets us going.

One of the best tools of the bus is the town hall developed by Network staff as an educational illustration, an effective graphic description of the effects of tax inequity. Without giving away the plot, let me just describe it as a human bar graph that introduces the audience to a real character NETWORK has encountered in the process of listening to people all over the United States.

The exercise dramatically illustrates how much that person benefited (or not!) from past and current tax policies. If you figure in other events likely to result from the tax changes, the lower economic quartiles of people even go backward.

Of course, the talented Nuns on the Bus take the parts of the characters. Doing the actions the exercise called for made me feel in my bones and muscles the desperation and despair of people in the middle and lower quartiles. The take-home lesson is (and you have heard this before): The lower economic groups suffer while the upper ones benefit.

A new insight I gained from the exercise is an understanding of why the richer people often cannot even see the suffering of the less privileged. They just do not move in the same circles — they are so far away from the other’s reality. It may also explain why some feel isolated, lonely, angry, and threatened by any discussion of tax justice.

Members of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 sign the bus after an Oct. 10 canvassing session in Las Vegas (Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice / Colleen Ross)

When we finish tonight, Thursday, we will have done this in three parishes or churches, each with its own personality and challenges. The discussion after the activity has been lively as the audiences discussed how the tax changes would likely affect their area or city or state and what they could be doing about it. Some great ideas have been suggested! The people have the answers. NETWORK then collects their input and uses it in later educational activities.

In legislative visits, we generally try to meet with a congressperson (usually one we know voted for the tax bill and does not agree with us!) to explain our position. We are meeting with them to hold them accountable for what their votes are doing to their constituents.

The first had to postpone the meeting with us but promised to meet with constituents on this topic later. We are heading for a meeting with office staff of U.S. Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona as I write this on the road to Tucson.

More later!