Category Archives: Income

Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

Mary Cunningham
April 30, 2018

“He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying: ‘Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.’ ” – St. Bernardine of Siena

On May 1, we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Pope Pius XII established this feast day in 1955 to honor St. Joseph and celebrate the Catholic Church’s commitment to the dignity of labor. St. Joseph cared for Mary, his wife, and Jesus, his son, through his work as a carpenter, representing for us the ideal of dignified work and faithful contribution to the common good. His example reminds all workers to participate in God’s continuing creation each and every day through our own labor.

As I reflect on St. Joseph the Worker, I am reminded of the teacher strikes emerging throughout our country in the past few months. Beginning in West Virginia –and growing to Colorado, Kentucky, Arizona, and Oklahoma– teachers are uniting to demand higher wages and better conditions for the schools where they teach. The teachers rallying are from states with some of the lowest salaries for educators in the country. They are calling for more state funding for public education, which is currently inadequate.

In a pivotal move, teachers are leaving their classrooms to go on strike. In West Virginia, the teachers hoped to point out not only inadequate pay, but also changes to PEIA (Public Employees Insurance Agency), a health insurance company that covers state employees. They also wanted to highlight the large number of teacher vacancies (700 in West Virginia) resulting from poor school conditions and low teacher pay. In Colorado, teachers rallied at the State Capitol for various reasons, among them fear of changes to retirement and pension plans. United for a common mission, these teachers have gained national attention, and in some cases, secured greater education funding.

Like teachers, workers across professions are joining together to demand just wages and benefits for their work. At the Christian Care Home  in Ferguson, Missouri, healthcare workers participated in a 104 day-long strike because the nursing home mishandled vacation and violated  the contract for time off  for its employees. Around 65 full-time employees and 25 part-time workers participated in the strike, which eventually led to a 20 cent an hour raise to $9.85 an hour. Christian Care Home also agreed to cover health insurance rates and cover payouts for unfair labor practices. This is another striking example of what it looks like to take action to secure dignified labor.

As we celebrate St Joseph the Worker today, we recall all workers who have experienced injustice and sought better working conditions for themselves and those around them. The teachers going on strike, and all teachers across the United States, are shaping our education system and forming the young women and men who will soon enter the workforce, and serve as our politicians, engineers, and innovators. Their contribution to the common good cannot be understated. All workers deserve dignity, fair compensation, and safe work environments that allow them to shape our shared future and contribute to the common good.

Returning to Others This Lent

Returning to Others This Lent

Mary Cunningham
March 22, 2018

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” – Joel 2:12

I have always been struck by the phrase “return to me” in Joel. In fact, I worked on a Lenten reflection guide during college bearing that very name. And yet, it was not until this year that I started to grapple with what the phrase really means and how it applies to me personally. Perhaps by working so closely on a project called “Return to Me” I felt I already fully understood the phrase, giving myself a pass to engage more deeply.

I tend to think of Lent as a personal practice, a way to evaluate my own faith life and identify where I can do better. While this is certainly important in returning to God, this Lenten season, that phrase took on a new meaning for me. As I began my Lenten practice, I realized that returning to God does not just mean focusing on my own prayer life; it also means returning to others.

I moved to Washington, D.C. at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history: a new president was elected who has a blatant disregard for the poor and marginalized. We were in new and unchartered territory. Now, working at a lobbying organization, I am often overwhelmed by the deluge of bad news. I constantly question if the work I am doing is making a concrete difference. At the same time, I’ve never felt like I was in a better position to change things.

This year at NETWORK one of my responsibilities was researching and compiling our Lenten resource on 21st Century Poverty. Working on this guide, I realized the importance of being both a witness to the suffering in our world and present to my neighbors. This takes place on both a small and large scale. Who are the people I interact with every day who might silently be suffering? And who are the people that I may not see every day, but who struggle from food insecurity, lack of housing, or low wages that keep them in poverty? I realize that I cannot complete alleviate anyone’s suffering, but I can be more attuned to it and help by asking myself, where can I return to others?

For me, Lent is coming to God, in my own brokenness and in my sadness at the brokenness of the world. In doing so, I am able to see where I can invest my energy and return to others. Then, the approach of Easter brings a promise of spring and new life for the world, where by returning to our neighbors, we return to God.

 

Representative Crowley on Surprises, Challenges, and the Road Ahead

Representative Crowley on Surprises, Challenges, and the Road Ahead

February 27, 2018

Congressman Joseph Crowley represents New York’s 14 congressional district and is Chair of the House Democratic Conference. This year, Congressman Crowley received a 100% on NETWORK’s voting record for the sixth year in a row. (View the 2017 voting record.) His six-year record is the longest out of anyone currently serving in Congress. NETWORK spoke to Representative Crowley to learn about how his Catholic faith and his lived experiences inform his political decisions.

How does your faith inspire your work in Congress?
I was raised to live by the Golden Rule: ‘Do to others as you would like them to do to you.’ This has guided me in life and inspired my work in Congress. It is simple: we need to treat others with the same compassion and empathy with which we all want to be treated, and put forward just and fair-minded policies that ensure opportunity for all. This means doing the right thing and working hard to ensure that my constituents from Queens, the Bronx, and all Americans can enjoy the brighter future they and their families deserve.

What is the proudest vote you have cast this year?
I believe that health care is a right, not a privilege. That’s why I voted against the so-called “American Health Care Act,” which would have stripped access to quality health care for millions, and punished children, seniors, and those with pre-existing conditions. I am very proud to defend the right of Americans to have access to affordable, quality health care, but also know we must do even more to make sure health care is available to all.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced this year?
A big challenge has been President Trump’s attacks on immigrants and refugees, including his heartless decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has upended the lives of nearly one million talented DREAMers who contribute to their communities and the American economy. These young people have all the qualities our nation was built upon and should be welcomed here.

What about this past year has surprised you the most, politically?
I’ve been appalled by the completely inadequate response to the suffering and pain of our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. President Trump and congressional Republicans have treated the victims of these natural disasters like second-class citizens, when they are as American as you and I. I visited Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria and witnessed the extensive devastation there. We need to do more to ensure that everyone living there has the resources needed to rebuild and recover, and I’ve promised our fellow Americans there that the federal government commitment to them will continue for years and decades.

What policy area will you focus most on in 2018?
There are too many important policies to pick just one. But an issue I’m especially passionate about is ensuring that hard-working Americans have access to affordable housing. Housing is one of the most basic human needs and the lack of affordable housing is a crushing burden for many families in Queens and the Bronx and across the U.S. This year, I introduced the Rent Relief Act – legislation to help those struggling to balance the high costs of rent with the needs of their families. It would put money back in the pockets of renters who spend more than 30 percent of their income each month on housing. This is an extraordinary way for us to build the middle class and secure the financial stability of working men and women.

When times seem difficult, what keeps you motivated to continue working for the common good in Congress? 
My constituents in Queens and the Bronx. Meeting with them and hearing directly about their passions, dreams, and hope are always motivating and inspiring. Despite all the challenges we face, I’ll continue to defend our values and provide good solutions for my constituents and all Americans.

How have you seen policies you’ve promoted in the past positively affect your constituents and our nation?
Legislation such as the Affordable Care Act has positively improved the quality of life of my constituents and of millions of people across the nation. The ACA has expanded coverage, reduced costs, and improved our health care system. We need to continue protecting this accomplishment and come together to improve health care so every American has access to affordable and quality care.

You voted with NETWORK 100% of the time for the past six years, which is the longest record for any current members of Congress. How does it feel?
Extremely honored. From protecting and improving our health care system to creating economic opportunity – my positions on our nation’s most pressing issues are always guided by the common good. I’m proud to be an ally of NETWORK in working toward economic and social transformation in our communities.

Do you have any advice for advocates inspired by their faith to engage in politics?
Turn your faith into action and never underestimate the power of your voice. Now more than ever, your engagement is making a difference.

Originally published in Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

The Legacy of the Family and Medical Leave Act

The Legacy of the Family and Medical Leave Act

Tralonne Shorter
February 5, 2018

It’s hard to imagine that 25 years ago, pregnancy was a cause for termination. Back then, pregnancy discrimination was a legal workplace norm in which pregnant women were regularly fired from jobs, demoted, and denied interviews or access to health benefits. Moreover, women of color−who traditionally are more likely to hold caretaking responsibilities for young children, spouses and aging parents−faced greater barriers to sustaining employment.

The passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), enacted on February 5, 1993, granted employees legal protections to “balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families.” The law permits 12 weeks of unpaid leave allowing parents to care for and bond with new babies or adopted children; and 26 weeks of intermittent leave to care for sick relatives. Over the years, the law has been expanded to provide protections for military service members, private contractors, and airline flight personnel. Today the law has been used more than 200 million times, including twice by former First Lady Michelle Obama, who was the primary breadwinner in her family at the time. Unfortunately, FMLA does not provide paid benefits and is available to fewer than 60 percent of workers because many can’t afford to take it. Only a handful of states have passed their own laws that would provide paid leave to employees for reasons beyond maternity leave such as: paternity, bereavement, or paid sick leave for men, women and domestic violence victims.

Our faith bestows great value to the institution of family. One example is the highly regarded historical woman who was a devoted wife, mother and business woman, seamlessly managing work-life balance, much to the chagrin of the modern woman. Today, technological advancements have revolutionized the way we connect at home and in the workplace. Employees can connect to email, video conferencing, cell phones, and text messaging, permitting round the clock productivity and virtually eliminating the need for physical presence in the workplace. Yet, the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not provide paid leave benefits.

Employers’ efforts to place profits over people diminish the common good and devalue the important roles of women and men within our families, the economy, and the workplace. Today more and more dads are requesting parental leave, same-sex couples are welcoming children, adult children are caring for aging parents, the loss of a loved one devastates an entire family, and domestic violence victims deserve time to recover and heal. Thus it is time for Congress to pass an updated law that requires employers to develop personnel policies that reflect 21st century norms without shortchanging employees.

25 years ago, I was a carefree, high school senior—determined to make my mark in Washington.  Today, I am a social justice advocate and also the mother of a three-year-old son, a partner, and primary breadwinner. I am grateful for the opportunity to work at NETWORK Lobby, a social justice organization I that provides a paid maternity leave policy and truly supports families. It is my sincere hope that 25 years from now, my son will reap the benefits of our collective efforts to create a new world where employers in the United States prioritize family-friendly workplace benefits and policies.

Our Advent Prayer: Let Us Support Child Care for Working Families

Our Advent Prayer: Let Us Support Child Care for Working Families

December 23, 2017

During the fourth week of Advent, we recall the time Mary and Joseph spent preparing for the birth of Jesus – time spent in joyful anticipation. Now, we wait in hopeful anticipation for Christ and strive to shape a world where all children and families are welcomed and cared for, including working families seeking child care.

As we prepare for the coming of Jesus, we are reminded of the families and children across the country whose lives are affected by federal policies. This week, we explore the current reality for working families who struggle to balance work and home life due to lack of affordable child care.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”   -John 1:14, NIV

Congress Must Prioritize Affordable Child Care for Families:

Read our legislative update on the Child Care for Working Families Act, a bill which seeks to aid low and middle-class working families with access to affordable child care.

“On September 14, two leading Congressional champions for children —Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA)—introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act (S. 1806/H.R. 3773). The bill would make high-quality child care affordable and accessible to lower- and middle-class families under 150 percent of the state median income level by capping costs at 7 percent of a family’s budget. The bill would focus on preparing 3- and 4-year-old children for kindergarten and make new investments in training child care professionals.

NETWORK supports this bill because our faith teaches us that children are a gift and blessing from God. Working families are stretched beyond their means and struggle to meet day-to-day expenses like housing and utility expenses.”

Read the entire legislative update here.

Policy Basics:

Providing affordable child care to working families is an important step in helping them strike a balance between work life and home life. According to the Center for American Progress, the average cost of child care per year is typically over $10,000. In order for families to provide child care for their children, they often have to sacrifice other necessities, or chose lower-quality child care programs. To combat this, the cost of child care must be lowered, while protecting the quality of the programs. Helping with access to affordable child care will ensure families have meaningful time together and allow children to reach their full potential.

Here are some suggestions from the Center for American Progress for reformed child care standards:

  • Lower child care costs for low-income and middle-class families to 7 percent of income through a sliding scale.
  • Provide flexibility to accommodate complex work schedules by increasing availability of care for nontraditional hours and allowing parents to choose the care of their choice in a center or home.
  • Increase options for parents by addressing child care deserts and bolstering licensed care in underserved communities.
  • Invest in high-quality programs by promoting quality standards and fair compensation and giving providers the resources and the supports to improve.
  • Expand opportunities for school-age children by providing access to after-school care, summer programs, and care for children with disabilities.
  • Improve compensation for child care providers by setting a floor of self-sufficiency and creating parity with K-12 teachers.
  • Create more well-paying care jobs in the care industry by expanding the supply of child care providers and increasing pay.

Read more from the Center for American Progress on child care reform here.

A Prayer for Child Care for Working Families

Loving God,

In this Advent season, as we pray for the children of our nation, we are reminded of the gift of yourself to the world as a child in Bethlehem. As you shower them with your care and protection, continue to show us ways that we too can enhance their early years among us.

Give them loving parents to nurture their growth and show us the ways that we can support those parents by providing high quality child care that will allow all children to reach the fullness of their potential in the years ahead.  Give providers of childcare the patience and love they need to assist our children to grow and develop.

Inspire our leaders to recognize that investing in our children is investing not only in their future, but in the future of our nation.  Lead us to commit the resources necessary to see that all children receive the care they need to flourish and succeed in the years ahead.

Amen.

Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND

Seeking Shelter from the Affordable Housing Disaster

Seeking Shelter from the Affordable Housing Disaster

Mary Cunningham
December 20, 2017

Three months ago I left the quiet Massachusetts neighborhood I grew up in to move Washington, D.C. One of my first impressions of the city as I walked around was how drastically the neighborhoods changed from block to block. In my own neighborhood in Northeast D.C., I was surprised to find that after walking only a few blocks I ran into a Starbucks, a Chipotle, and a Barnes and Noble. The residential area my house was in felt worlds away from the perfectly paved sidewalks and the gleaming new buildings I encountered on my walk. I thought to myself, this just doesn’t seem to fit.

I was also shocked to hear that D.C. has one of the largest homeless populations in the United States. When I first arrived in D.C., the city seemed so robust that I never considered homelessness might be a major issue. And yet, as I ventured into more of D.C.’s neighborhoods, I began to see more and more people experiencing homelessness. I wondered, how can a city so rooted in public service have people living on the streets? Some may look at the gentrification sweeping through D.C. and many other cities as a way of moving the city forward. What they may not realize, however, is that it also leaves people behind.

Once every few months, the NETWORK staff participates in a Political Ministry Day: a chance to engage in service, immersion, and reflection together. Recently, we spent part of our day at The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, which provides legal assistance and “Know Your Rights” resources to anyone suffering from homelessness. During the afternoon, we heard from Patty Fugere, the Clinic’s Executive Director, who facilitated a panel with LaJuan and LaTreviette, two women who have experienced homelessness. After they shared their lived experiences, Patty talked about how difficult it is to find affordable housing in D.C. She said new housing units are constantly being built, but they are almost always out of range for low-income folks. As I listened to a mix of personal stories and harsh realities, I was astounded by the pervasiveness of the affordable housing crisis and its effects.

While it seems like there is an overwhelming amount of construction in D.C., the new apartments and homes are drastically out of the price range for low-income families. According to a study by Freddie Mac, between 2010 and 2016 the amount of affordable housing for low-income families in Washington D.C. dropped by 60%.[1] Without access to affordable housing, individuals become cost-burdened (spend more than 30% of income on housing), they are unable to build wealth, and they become increasingly susceptible to poverty. Another issue lies in who affordable housing is available for. “Affordable rental units” are units available for families making 50% of the average median income. In Washington D.C., 50% of the average median income for a family of four ranges from $55,000 to $88,000.[2] What does that mean for the drastic number of families making below $55,000? Where are they supposed to find housing? With their income level, how are they supposed to choose between housing, food, and everything else they need to provide for their family?

The lack of affordable housing in Washington, D.C. and across the country needs to be amongst the first issues addressed in order to adequately respond to the members of our community who are experiencing homelessness or are who are extremely cost-burdened. If we continue avoiding this issue, we are shirking our responsibilities to our sisters and brothers.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/10/23/americas-affordable-housing-stock-dropped-by-60-percent-from-2010-to-2016/?utm_term=.b66d6c166036

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/the-new-dc-outside-an-rei-that-sells-tents-desperate-people-are-living-in-them/2017/12/14/a47a8d1e-e0c5-11e7-8679-a9728984779c_story.html?utm_term=.f022f10

Immoral Tax Plan Makes Its Way Through Congress

Immoral Tax Plan Makes Its Way Through Congress

Mary Cunningham
December 13, 2017

Around 3 A.M. Saturday, December 2, the Senate voted to pass the Republican tax bill, a measure which will undeniably have detrimental effects on low and middle income households.  The bill also costs the U.S. treasury over $1.5 trillion dollars, which will soon be used as a reason to make cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as well as other safety net programs.

With all of this happening, what’s really going on behind closed doors? Both the Senate and House have chosen members who will sit on the conference committee tasked to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill. There has already been a lot of back and forth as House and Senate leadership discuss which details to include in the final tax cut bill. These discussions largely surround debates on the repeal of the alternative minimum tax for corporations, concerns about the research and development tax credit, the repeal of the state and local tax deductions, and requests to lower taxes on small businesses.

Every Democrat in the House and Senate and numerous Republican members of the House have come out against the bill, recognizing the adverse effects it will have on their districts. Passing a bill that will increase taxes on their constituents is a large risk, especially with midterm elections approaching rapidly. The incentive to get this bill passed is largely political. Republicans, eager to have at least one major victory, are rushing to get it passed before this year’s end.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has condemned the tax bill, calling it “unconscionable.” They claim it will disproportionately affect working poor families and individuals while protecting the interests of the wealthy. In a letter to the House of Representatives, the Bishops noted that key programs which help people who are economically marginalized are at risk for elimination, including an income tax credit for persons with disabilities and the deduction for state and local taxes. While the Child Tax Credit would be expanded, it’s likely that low-income families will not be able to reap the benefits, especially immigrant families who file their taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). They wrote, “No tax reform proposal is acceptable that increases taxes for those living in poverty to help pay for benefits to wealthy citizens.”

This bill will lead directly to automatic cuts in healthcare and other vital social programs, in part to offset the estimated $1.5 trillion cost of the bill over the next 10 years. House Speaker Paul Ryan has already signaled that the next step for Congress after passing the bill will be to reduce funding for entitlement programs to pay for the tax cuts. We can learn from other states that have implemented tax cuts experiments and see that they have not worked! In 2012, the Kansas state legislature passed a tax cut plan that they promised would boost the economy and pay for itself over the years. In reality, lowering income and business taxes only hurt the economy, and led to a severely damaging loss of state revenue. Now, the Trump administration’s tax plan poses the same threat on a national level. This is a bill that Republican members of Congress are pushing in order to satisfy their donors. It is not a bill for the 100% and is the wrong direction for our country.

Here are some ways to oppose to GOP tax plan:

  • Call your Representatives! The fight is not over. Call 1-888-422-4555 to speak to your Representative and tell her or him why you oppose the bill. Remember to share your faith perspective!
  • Speak out on social media! Use your Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram accounts to voice your concerns about the tax bill and the effects it will have on our most vulnerable neighbors.
  • Visit your Member of Congress’s office with friends in your community and talk directly to staff about why this bill is wrong for your district and wrong for the country.
  • Get creative: Hold a prayer vigil outside your Members’ office!

Finding Beauty in Difference

Finding Beauty in Difference

Caitlin Wright
November 3, 2017

Everything is so…white, I couldn’t help but think as I emerged from the 72nd Street Broadway metro station on the Upper West Side. Not only were the people strikingly white, but the buildings, the sidewalks, everything was gleamingly ivory. The streets of Brooklyn that I had grown accustomed to were far away, both in distance and memory, as I converged with the other white women of one of the wealthiest areas of Manhattan. Though I was not sporting Givenchy or Prada, it was odd to think that superficially, I had much more in common with these people than with residents of the other boroughs. Yet I felt the most uncomfortable I had since moving to Bedford-Stuyvescent, a neighborhood of Brooklyn, as a Jesuit Volunteer a month and a half prior. I pounded the pavement — my attempts to look like a native New Yorker typically consist of me walking quickly in a distinct direction — toward the Church of the Blessed Sacrament to see a talk with a Jesuit priest that others and I admire very much: Father James Martin.

In his talk, Father Martin spoke about his most recent publication, Building a Bridge, a monumental piece of literature for the Catholic Church. In Building a Bridge, Father Martin reflects on the essential bond the Church must nurture between members of the Catholic faith and the LGBT community. After the lecture, I could not stop thinking about the discussion surrounding the concept of “the other”. Jesus calls us toward the marginalized, toward the oppressed, and toward those in need. He calls us not toward ignorance, nor denial, nor pity for those who are different, but toward solidarity; toward true empathy that we are unified as children of God. Your neighbor, whoever he/she/they may be, is inextricably bound to you through God’s love. As Father Martin said that night, “There is no ‘other’ for Jesus. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is only us.”

In no way am I disregarding the essential recognition of those who are different from you or me, but we must see the beauty in these differences rather than allowing them to become divisive. It is far too easy to allow ourselves to see each person superficially, especially in this political climate. Even Jesuit juggernauts like Father Martin are facing massive backlash for efforts toward unification that are manipulated into cruelty and spite. Class consciousness only prevails in the greatest efforts toward understanding, when we ask a question and sincerely listen to the answer without malice. And it is only with this class consciousness that we can achieve a faith that does justice.

I thought about this as I exited the church back into the Upper East Side, questioning the judgements I had held about the diverse neighborhoods of the largest city in the world. On my train back to Brooklyn, I asked myself, had I been too self-righteous in thinking that I already knew it all? Was I inserting myself into a community with preconceived assumptions, allowing existence of the “other” to remain? When I arrived in Bed-Stuy, I promised myself that I would ask more of these questions, and challenge myself to see beyond. I am called to act with justice, not only as a Jesuit Volunteer, but as a child of God, and this call asks me to love and serve by being with others, side by side, in solidarity. Whether I am with my clients, my housemates, my neighbors, the people in my subway car, or even the Upper East Siders, the matter remains: there is no “us” and “them”. There is only us.

Caitlin Wright is a Jesuit Volunteer serving at Catholic Migration Services in Brooklyn. She is originally from Prior Lake, MN and graduated from Creighton University in May of 2017.

Broadening Horizons: A Deeper Understanding of Poverty

Broadening Horizons: A Deeper Understanding of Poverty

Mary Cunningham
October 10, 2017

“You’re going to Burkesville, Kentucky!” the headline of my email read. As a senior, I had decided to lead a spring break immersion trip to Appalachia, where I would accompany 12 participants from my college to engage in a week of service, immersion and solidarity with the community in Burkesville, Kentucky. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but as usual, I was surprised.

Leading up the trip I did not understand what rural poverty looked like. I grew up in northern Massachusetts in a small, upper middle class town. I spent one summer during college interning at a church in downtown Boston, an area known for its large population of homeless individuals and high-concentration of drugs. Having been surrounded by this on a daily basis, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of what poverty looked like. My trip to Kentucky changed that.

Burkesville, a small, remote town in southern Kentucky has a vibrant spirit and a strong sense of community. And yet, as my week there unfolded, I noticed signs of poverty. We worked at the Burkesville elementary school where many of the kids were on a nutrition assistance program. Although the school provided some snacks, they were often unhealthy options. Talking with school administrators, we also learned that there were not a lot of viable job opportunities in the area. There was a large population of children and retired people, but there seemed to be a lack of middle-aged people contributing to the economic growth of the town. Seeing a community struggling with these issues was something I had heard about, but never encountered.

As an associate at NETWORK, I recently learned about the rural poverty I saw in Burkesville from a policy perspective. On September 28, I attended a briefing titled, “Urban and Rural Poverty in America” in the Rayburn House Office Building. One of the things that stood out to me was how a city’s remoteness and population size are connected to poverty rates. Research collected by the Salvation Army shows that states that are more remote and that have both high and low population concentrations tend to have higher levels of need than states that are less remote. Rural towns located far from large cities tend to have a harder time accessing government services and their residents are often underemployed. It was clear from the panel that these unique challenges facing rural communities make grappling with poverty across our country difficult.

Another interesting comment came from one of the panelists, John Letteiri, who works for the Economic Innovation Group. Mr. Letteiri noted that the decline of migration is one of the major causes of exacerbated rural poverty. He cited an interesting statistic: since the 1990s migration from rural to urban areas has fallen about 50 percent. Without mobility, residents of these rural towns are attached to the economic reality of their area. As I left the panel, I was left with a sharp reminder of my experience in Burkesville, Kentucky.

The way in which we understand poverty needs to constantly be reframed. We largely define poverty based on our own cultural perceptions, not the reality of the situation. As a society, we must take into account those who are forced into poverty due to social, economic, and political factors beyond their control and prioritize policies that support them. As poverty changes, so must our definition of it.

Called to Defend the Rights of Workers

Called to Defend the Rights of Workers

By Joseph Geevarghese
From NETWORK’s Catholic Social Justice Reflection Guide

Every day, Charles Gladden wakes up and goes to work at the US Capitol. As a cook and cleaner at the Senate, Charles serves some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in our nation. But every night, Charles goes to sleep outside a metro station just a few blocks from the White House. Even though Charles worked full-time, he was homeless.

Charles is just one of millions of low-wage federal contract workers who earn so little that they cannot live in dignity. In fact, the U.S. Government is America’s leading low-wage job creator, using our tax dollars to fund more poverty jobs than Wal-Mart and McDonalds combined.

This means that we the people – as taxpayers and citizens – are complicit in creating an economy that keeps Charles and other workers struggling to survive. But it also means that we have the power to stand-up and transform a broken system.

Charles is already taking action alongside other low-wage federal contract workers. Over the past four years, thousands of these workers – supported by Sr. Simone and other faith leaders – walked off their jobs 20 times to help 20 million contract workers win higher wages, protection against wage theft and other labor abuses, and paid leave benefits through Presidential action.

However, these gains are now at risk of being lost. Like our Latino and Muslim brothers and sisters, the rights of workers are under attack.

Catholic social teaching calls us to stand in solidarity with workers to transform unjust political and economic systems that put people last. We are called to defend the right of workers who are organizing to create a better life for themselves and their families. We are called to safeguard the right of workers to enjoy the fruits of their labor. And, importantly, we are called to unite with workers like Charles to hold our elected officials accountable to end our government-sponsored low-wage economy.

Joseph Geevarghese is the Director of Good Jobs Nation, an organization of low-wage federal contractors organizing for living wages and union rights. Read more at: http://goodjobsnation.org.


View the full Catholic Social Justice Reflection guide here.

View the Lent Calendar to take action on healthcare here.