Category Archives: Income

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!

Travel Log: Las Vegas Canvassing

Travel Log: Las Vegas Canvassing

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
October 10, 2018

We started our second day in Vegas after a late night of heavy drinking and gambling (I’m joking, of course).  We were warmly greeted by the Culinary Workers Union 226 at their headquarters, joining a large room crowded with culinary workers diligently prepping canvassing materials.  Their morning briefing before heading out was raucous and full of energy—a great primer for a quick rally with the nuns to follow.  Sister Bernadine Karge, OP and Sister Simone were joined by two female union members to address a crowd of 150 or so unionized workers.  They spoke powerfully about human dignity, the need to respect workers, especially women (54% of their union members are female) and the importance of communal action and unity to bring about change.  The idea of solidarity and shared responsibility is especially crucial for a union that consists of 50,000 members from 173 countries that speak 40 languages.

Since over half (55%) of Union 226 members are Latinx, Sister Chris Machado, SSS and I had the opportunity to canvass with two Spanish-speaking women from Mexico and Cuba.  Most of the union workers had taken a political leave of absence—one of the contract provisions won through years of hard-fought negotiations.  Maria and Martha were both proud to take a leave—along with a pay cut—in order to put in their share of hours canvassing.  They want to promote candidates who will, in-turn, support workers’ rights and strengthened collective bargaining.

During their familiar routine going door-to-door, they explained that the names and addresses were of residents who did not, or rarely, voted in past elections.  As non-partisan participants, for myself and my fellow Nuns on the Bus, our primary push was to stress the importance of voting on November the 6th—that their vote and who we elect makes a difference. Most knocks had no response, so we left the materials at the door and Maria and Martha would return to follow-up.  Each time Maria saw that a resident was a registered Republican she would make the Sign of the Cross before approaching the door—but she did it anyway.  Needless to say, they are sometimes turned away with harsh words, but these workers are a persevering bunch.  They are driven for the sake of their families and inspired by their fellow union members who they consider their sisters and brothers.

 

To view more photos of the canvassing event, visit our Flickr album.

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.