Category Archives: Income

Voting to Mend the Gaps in Indianapolis

Voting to Mend the Gaps in Indianapolis

By Meg Olson
October 6, 2016

This past week, we traveled to Indianapolis and visited Southeast Community Services, an agency that provides GED preparation and job skills training. As Sister Simone spoke with 30 clients, we learned that there is a severe shortage of affordable housing in Indianapolis and that low wages are preventing parents and grandparents from adequately providing for their families. It was also clear many of the people sharing their stories didn’t feel like they should vote because they were poor or hadn’t graduated from high school, or because they felt like politics didn’t apply to them.

We showed two of our presidential candidate Side by Side videos, one that compared Clinton and Trump’s positions on affordable housing and one on living wages. Afterwards, Sister Simone asked, “So, what do you think?” Immediately, Thomasina raised her hand and said, “I’m going to vote! I wasn’t going to because I thought I was going to destroy something…but it’s important for my family! How do I vote?” Thomasina, who had just sold her car for $150 so she could buy her kids new school clothes, is going to vote for the first time in this election and add her voice to our democracy.

New Rules Promote Family-Friendly Workplace Policies

New Rules Promote Family-Friendly Workplace Policies

By Colleen Ross
October 5, 2016

Protecting and promoting the rights of workers is at the heart of Catholic Social Justice. The stories of people like Kathy whose “temporary” position does not provide insurance or paid sick days and Joan who shared the story of a nurse’s aide returning to work the day after experiencing a miscarriage show the need for continued advocacy on behalf of workers. Nationally, there are about 41 million workers who lack access to paid sick days, forcing them to choose between their health and a paycheck anytime they or a family member are sick. [1] This is both an exceptional and unjust state of affairs; every other developed nation requires access to paid sick leave for their workers. [2]

Members of Congress, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and President Obama have called for legislation to provide American workers with paid sick days for years. In a significant step last week, the Obama Administration finalized a rule that requires businesses doing work on federal contracts to allow their employees to earn up to seven paid sick days a year beginning January 1, 2017. This rule could affect up to 600,000 people nationwide, and sets a strong precedent for businesses to follow.

In a related move last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published its final revisions to the EEO-1 form that will be used to collect data to prevent pay discrimination in workplaces. Though we have made progress as a nation in decreasing wage discrimination based on gender, race, or ethnicity, pay gaps still exist. As Pope Francis said “Why is it taken for granted that women should earn less than men? No! They have the same rights. This disparity is an absolute disgrace!” [3] NETWORK supports both the EEOC and the Labor Department in these steps towards realizing more just and equal conditions for all workers.


[1] http://www.nationalpartnership.org/issues/work-family/paid-sick-days.html

[2] https://thinkprogress.org/the-u-s-is-the-only-developed-country-without-paid-sick-days-obama-is-calling-for-that-to-change-21af09694174#.d55xrlwdn

[3]General Audience, April 29, 2015  https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2015/documents/papa-francesco_20150429_udienza-generale.html

Gaps are Closing, but More Must be Done to Create an Economy of Inclusion

Gaps are Closing, but More Must Be Done to Create an Economy of Inclusion

By Lucas Allen
September 22, 2016

Nearly nine years after the start of the Great Recession, economic recovery has been painfully slow for many Americans and vast economic divides remain. However, promising new data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 2015 was the best year of economic improvement for low- and middle-income Americans in decades. Here is some of the good news revealed in the report:

  • The poverty rate fell by 1.2 percentage points, the steepest decline since 1968
  • Real median household incomes rose by 5.2%, the largest increase since the 1960s
  • The percentage of Americans who lack healthcare fell to 9.1%, the lowest uninsured rate in our nation’s history

Most importantly, these economic improvements were distributed to all Americans—not just the wealthiest. This Census report shows that in 2015, our country made some much-needed positive steps toward mending the gaps in our divided society. While these improvements are certainly promising, a closer look at the report shows that we have much more work to do to create an economy of inclusion. The shared growth of the past year is welcome news, but it has not changed the reality that far too many people are struggling to get by in the world’s richest nation. It is a grave injustice that women, children, and people of color continue to bear a disproportionate burden of this suffering. The poverty rates of women who head families (36.5%), children (19.7%), and African Americans (24.1%) are all far higher than the average poverty rate of 13.5%.

One cause for hope in this report is that federal programs are working to lift people out of situations of poverty—they just need to be ramped up. The improvements our country makes, and the gaps that persist, are greatly impacted by policies and decisions made by Congress. For example, the Earned-Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) kept 9.2 million people out of poverty, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) kept 4.6 million people out of poverty. These large numbers are hard to picture, but they represent millions of families who are able to make ends meet with support from these programs.

In his address to Congress last year, Pope Francis said, “A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people.” Programs such as the EITC, CTC, and SNAP are great examples of legislation based on care for people and the common good. If you and I make our voices heard this election season, we can ensure that programs like these are protected and expanded to create an inclusive economy and society.

More resources:

https://networklobby.org/election2016/sidebysides/

https://networklobby.org/election2016/

https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2016/demo/p60-256.html

Travel Log: Toledo Rally and Site Visit

Travel Log: Toledo Rally and Site Visit

Sister Margaret McGuirk, OP
July 16, 2016

Holy Toledo! Here we are in Ohio. This morning began at 10 AM at the International Park in Toledo and our focus was on Access to Citizenship.

1ToledoWe were blessed by some wonderful speakers:

    • Sister Geraldine Nowak began her opening prayer with: Do not tire of working for peace for all people.
    • Pamela McGarey of the Amalgamated Transit Union 697 is a Paratransit Worker who drives a bus for the disabled. She said that the theme that the City promotes is “You do better in Toledo.” She is grateful for the good job that she has with benefits but laments the fact that her benefits do not cover her family. In order to get health care for her family she would have to pay $700 which would mean working 60 hours instead of 40 hours She called for universal health care
    • Enedilia Cisneros is with Farmer Labors Organizing Cooperative (FLOC). When she first came to the United States and began working in the fields, they had no way of asking for their basic rights. But with the help of FLOC they now receive benefits and are working for a living wage. Enedilia continues to work in the fields despite the fact she is now in her 60s and she is proud that she has four children who are not forced to do the backbreaking work that she has done over the years.
    • Dr. Jonathan Ross spoke passionately of the need for single payer universal health care and the expansion of Medicare. He said that even he who is a medical doctor and has years of experience as a medical doctor finds the system of payment complex and confusing. There are 10,000 deaths a year because people are not covered by health insurance and this happens year, after year.
    • Doug Jambard Sweet is dedicated to a constitutional amendment to block big money in politics. He spoke with conviction and hope that this change can be a major factor in mending the gap.
    • Representative Marcy Kaptur, who has served the thirteenth district of Ohio for 34 years. Her voting record reflects her deep commitment to the policies that bridge the gap and re-weave the fabric of our nation and she is a true friend of NETWORK.

2-ToledoIn the afternoon, we were hosted by Baldemar Velasquez who is the president and founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). Baldemar is an internationally recognized leader in the farmworker and immigrants’ rights movements.

The most exciting part of our discussion was the witness of youth who are being trained as organizers and future leaders of the community. The teenagers told us about recent projects they have been involved in with guidance from their FLOC mentors—one involving changing school policies about sexual harassment and another about engaging law enforcement around the issue of racism.

It was encouraging to see that the next generation of leaders is carrying the baton and learning from Baldemar and other labor organizers who paved the way for them. These young people are learning early how to Mend the Gaps!

 

See also:
Reflection on Day Six: Choosing Positive Change
Slideshow: Toledo Rally
Slideshow: Farm Labor Organizing Committee
Reflection: Connecting with Other Sisters

Speaker Ryan Fails to Consider His Faith in His Policies

Speaker Ryan Fails to Consider His Faith in His Policies

By Molly Burton, NETWORK Intern
July 7, 2016

My name is Molly Burton and I’m very excited to say that I’m interning at NETWORK this summer. I’m a rising junior at the University of Notre Dame, studying peace studies, gender studies, and philosophy. My ultimate career goal is to become a human rights lawyer and work in policy against sex trafficking and sexual based violence against women, so I’m excited for NETWORK to teach me more about the lobbying side of policymaking. I’m originally from St. Louis, MO and went to Catholic grade school (Mary, Queen of Peace) and high school (Nerinx Hall).

That description doesn’t just describe me, however, it describes hundreds, even thousands of people whose Catholic backgrounds guided them into the policy world. One of these people is current Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. Though Speaker Ryan and I might share the same religion, I frequently (if not almost always) disagree with him. An example of this can be seen with Speaker Ryan’s recent release of his anti-poverty plan, “A Better Way to Fight Poverty.” House Republicans released this plan at the beginning of my third week at NETWORK and my third week on the Hill and it left me a little disappointed in how the House Republicans view poverty and those stuck in poverty. I have been grateful for the amount of pushback this plan is getting from critics both inside and outside of the Congress.

You’d think fighting poverty would be an issue that both parties would agree on, that we could put aside our differences and help those who need it the most. Well, it doesn’t seem to be that way at all. The 30 plus page document that Speaker Ryan released (that I couldn’t even get all the way through because it frustrated me too much) has an underlying message throughout that no one would be poor if they worked. For instance, the taskforce that “A Better Way” creates, “recommends that federal safety-net programs expect work-capable welfare recipients to work or prepare for work in exchange for receiving benefits. That’s the only way they can escape poverty.”

This idea bugged me just a little bit (a lot it bugged me a lot). It ignores the systemic nature of poverty and how truly difficult it is to escape it. It ignores how ingrained racism, sexism, and classism is in our society and how that constantly pushes people down. It ignores how society has ghetto-ized poverty and forced those who are perceived as different out towards impoverished, violent neighborhoods with poor education systems. Speaker Ryan’s poverty plan is not a better way to fight poverty; it is a better way to fight those in poverty.

His ideas aren’t going to make conditions better for anyone living in poverty. Honestly, the ideas that Speaker Ryan presented in his plan offended me and I’m sure anyone who has seen poverty first hand. In my opinion, Speaker Ryan misinterpreted what it means to help those in poverty by expecting from them to achieve what was handed on a silver platter to him and those surrounding him. His privilege makes him blind. Though I am incredibly privileged as well, I’d hope that the influences in my life, like my years of Catholic school and the Catholic Social Justice principles here at NETWORK, have given me a way to see those struggling with poverty without blindly demanding more work from a population that has been working as many shifts as possible at a minimum wage job and making still less than the federal poverty line. Don’t get me wrong, I respect Speaker Ryan’s right to his opinion and definitely acknowledge that he is way more informed about policy than I, an intern and not even a junior in college, am. Yet, I still ask Speaker Ryan to consider his Catholic faith and really ask himself if “A Better Way to Fight Poverty” really is a better way to fight poverty.

Read more from NETWORK about Speaker Ryan’s new anti-poverty plan here.

Blog: Predatory Lending, the Latest Target for the CFPB

Predatory Lending, the Latest Target for the CFPB

Alice Kitchen, NETWORK Board Member
June 8, 2016

“You have been providing payday loans to people who are mentally retarded and mentally ill. You have provided payday loans to people who are illiterate, who cannot read the very contract you have them agree to. This is wrong”. These were the words of a staff member of St. Vincent DePaul Society in Southeast Missouri.  She was part of the 50-60 people who gave personal testimony at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Hearing in Kansas City, Missouri on June 2nd.

This public rally and hearing has long been in the works. In 2012, activists throughout Missouri gathered signatures to put payday lending reform on the statewide ballot. Signatures were easy to come by as citizens throughout the state saw these payday lending storefronts everywhere but mostly in low income communities. Missouri legislators failed to pass laws to reduce the ceiling on interest rates for payday loans below 450%. Industry leaders and the Missouri Equal Credit Opportunity have amply contributed to state legislators, the Black Caucus, and the Urban Summit to the tune of over $2 million in the past 3 years.

Photo courtesy of Andrew King

Photo by Andrew Kling

Over 1,000 people joined the public rally. The highlight for me was seeing Bishop James V. Johnston Jr., the new bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, alongside of the Rt Rev Martin “Bishop Marty” Field of West Missouri leading a long procession of faith leaders and social justice activists.

Bishop Johnson said to a local journalist “[predatory lending] is one of the most atrocious things that still exist in our society. It’s incredible that people can be exploited like this.”

The rally participants came from all over Missouri, parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Kansas City was selected for the hearing because some of the most egregious abuses have occurred here. As anticipated, two large charter buses pulled up in front of the Music Hall to deliver over a hundred payday loan workers from surrounding areas. The employees of these storefront payday loans made the pleas to oppose the proposed regulations. During the four hours of hearings many of them stated how their services helped people in desperate situations. Activists and faith based speakers prefaced their comments with their name with “and I am not paid to be here.” One woman working at a payday loan office made an emotional plea not to enforce the proposed regulations since she needed her job; she just purchased a home and has two daughters to support. How perverse is this?

The stories were painful to listen to as they told of loss of income to pay the rent, purchase medications, pay for transportation, feed their family and maintain their housing. Some told of their loss of their homes, the marriages, their cars were repossessed, and several committed suicide.

Predatory Lending Photo credit Andrew King2

Photo by Andrew Kling

Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould, of Missouri Faith Voices, spoke eloquently about the need for strong regulation to put an end to the predatory nature of these loans.  Predatory lending, she said is “a scourge on minority communities.” She advocated support for the federal consumer agency’s new proposed regulations, especially the call for a measure of underwriting before a loan is issued. “Basically, to get a payday loan, all you need is a checking account and to be breathing,” she said. This was a woman who had worked in banking for 17 years before going to divinity school.

I testified on behalf of a graduate student of mine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She struggled with her classes, not because she was not capable but because she had student loans and a payday loan to the amount of $80,000. She had no transportation and a fragile housing arrangement; she was the guardian for her grandfather and worked at a coffee cafe to get by. She couldn’t be at the hearing because she finally got a job. With her marginal income it will take many years in the prime of her life to pay off her spiraling debt.

The Consumer Financial Protection Board posted their proposed new rules online just before the hearing. Proposed regulations are “Aimed at cleaning up unfair, deceptive or abusive practices that harm consumers” said Richard Cordray, Director of the CFPB. Many have said that what is most needed is a cap on the ceiling for interest rates. The CFPB does not have the authority to do this, but many suggest the cap that is put on military payday loans which have a ceiling of 36%. The 90 day comment period opened at the hearing and once the proposed regulations are finalized they will go into effect most likely next year. These rules do not require Congressional approval.

You can comment on the proposed rules online at https://www.regulations.gov/ or by phone at 855-729-2372.

Blog: 10 Things Speaker Ryan Could Do to Address Poverty Right Now

10 Things Speaker Ryan Could Do to Address Poverty Right Now

NETWORK Lobby
June 7, 2016

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice welcomes anyone, any time, to the conversation about how to make sure no one in the United States lives in poverty. But we strongly dispute the claim that this is a deeply complicated problem requiring a brand new agenda, such as the one likely to be presented by Speaker Paul Ryan in the coming days. The fact is Congress knows, and has always known, how to end poverty. It is simply not that difficult, in the richest country the world has ever known, to create an inclusive economy where everyone has the resources to live with dignity.

In fact, we could do much of it as early as tomorrow.

Toward that end, we offer Speaker Ryan, the driving force behind the Republican “anti-poverty” agenda, 10 things he could bring to the House Floor tomorrow that would actually work. This is not everything that has to be done to mend the gaps in the fabric of our society, but it’s a darn good start.

  1. Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour — Even as the economic recovery has brought lower unemployment, too many people working full-time jobs (or even two or three of them) don’t make enough to get by. A study by the National Employment Law Project found that $15/hour was the lowest wage that would still allow a single worker to meet the basic cost of living just about everywhere in the United States. Speaker Ryan could help lift thousands of workers out of poverty by passing H.R. 3164, the Pay Workers a Living Wage Act introduced in Congress last year.
  2. Guarantee paid sick leave — 49% of workers in America still lack paid sick leave and are forced to choose between losing the salary they desperately need and jeopardizing their health and the health of those around them. After passing a comprehensive paid sick leave policy New York City found not only that it improved the health and financial security of workers, but also that unemployment dropped and businesses grew.The Healthy Families Act (H.R. 932) was introduced in Congress more than a year ago. There’s no excuse not to pass this legislation today.
  3. Guarantee paid family leave — In addition to ensuring that everyone has the ability to take a sick day to care for themselves or their family, we must also guarantee paid leave for new parents and those who have to take extended time to care for a sick family member. Only 5% of workers in the lowest 25% wage category have access to paid family leave, compared to 22% of workers in the highest 10% wage category. The FAMILY Act (H.R. 1439), introduced in Congress last year, builds on successful legislation passed by cities and states around the country to create an insurance program that provides workers with the family leave they need.
  4. Expand and protect the Earned Income Tax Credit — The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of our most effective anti-poverty programs. It provides tax relief to low-income workers to ensure that no one who labors to earn a basic wage is taxed back into poverty. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the EITC helped lift 6.2 million people out of poverty in 2013. But the current law overlooks too many workers in need, including those low income workers without children and workers under 25 or over 65. Speaker Ryan himself discussed his support for addressing these gaps when he was Chairman of the House Budget Committee, now he has the means and the opportunity to make those changes today.
  5. Expand childcare subsidies — The high cost of quality childcare takes a dramatic toll on low-income families across the country. A report from theEconomic Policy Institute found that in every state, quality childcare cost more than 30% of a minimum-wage worker’s earnings. Access to high quality childcare allows parents to support their families and better prepares children to learn and grow into healthy adults. We shouldn’t ask people to choose between their kids and their paychecks — H.R. 4524, the Child CARE Act, is one way that Speaker Ryan could solve that problem.
  6. Ban the box — It’s no secret that admitting to having a criminal record is the kiss of death for job applicants. Conviction records are likely to reduce the prospect of a job offer or interview by almost 50%. There are currently 70 million people in America with arrest or conviction records, we are only just beginning to realize the massive economic implications of discriminating against the people who are reentering society and the workforce. Passing the Fair Chance Act (H.R. 3470) would allow people seeking to reenter the workforce the opportunity to apply based on merit, without facing discrimination.
  7. Pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship — For the millions of people who live in the U.S. without documentation or with only temporary permission to work, finding stable employment can be nearly impossible. Many more immigrants are barred from accessing the social programs they need because of decades of anti-immigrant legislation. By allowing immigrants to come out of the shadows and fully participate in society, immigration reform would benefit individual families and our community; the CBO estimated that immigration reform would reduce our federal budget deficit by $200 billion over ten years. H.R. 13, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, had the votes to become law in 2014 and is a viable solution to fixing our broken immigration system. Speaker Ryan should work with his fellow members of Congress to pass real immigration reform now.
  8. Expand eligibility and opportunity for low-income housing units — There is a significant shortage of affordable housing units across the country. Bipartisan legislation in the Senate rumored to be introduced in the House of Representatives (The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act) would incentivize the building and preservation of almost 1.3 million homes. Speaker Ryan can move forward with his commitment to end poverty by developing a housing plan that focuses on ensuring that everyone has a home.
  9. Continue to make healthcare more affordable — The Affordable Care Act was a critical step toward making sure that all Americans can access the healthcare they need, but it stopped short of realizing the goal of universal healthcare. H.R.3241, the State-Based Universal Health Care Act of 2015, would allow states more flexibility and freedom to work toward universal healthcare. Speaker Ryan can move forward today to ensure that no one lives in the healthcare gap and take a powerful step toward alleviating the economic uncertainty and financial burden of families still left without health insurance.
  10. Reauthorize and improve the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act — The landmark legislation that helps feed children in schools across the country has been under attack by congressional Republicans. Congress has sought to cut the number of schools eligible to feed all of their students and increase the amount of time and effort schools must put into qualifying for the program. Beyond these initial changes that will kick thousands of students out of the program, Republicans in Congress want to replace the entire program with ‘block grants’ that will seriously jeopardize our ability to feed children in need. Congress has an opportunity to improve child nutrition programs to feed more children who are hungry. If Speaker Ryan wants to lead on poverty, he can start by leading his party away from policies that take food from children.

As NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus reminded Congressman Ryan in 2012, to implement programs that work to eliminate poverty, Congress must have the political will to raise reasonable revenue for these responsible programs. We can pay for these programs by closing tax loopholes and having the courage to fix our broken tax system. Right now, a loophole in tax law allows hedge fund managers to call a portion of their earnings a ‘capital gain’ instead of ‘income’ and that small difference costs the nation billions in tax revenue every year. The Carried Interest Fairness Act (H.R. 2889) is one such piece of legislation that promotes tax fairness in the United States.

Creative solutions to solving poverty are necessary, but we don’t need to look far to find the answers. What if — instead of giving the billionaires another break — we took that money and used it to expand Section 8, the federal program that helps low-income families find affordable housing? NETWORK Lobby judges all legislation by how it would affect people experiencing poverty. If Speaker Ryan is serious about this issue, we encourage him to use the same criteria.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Sister Janet standing with residents of Providence House

Guest Blog: Without Living Wages, Women Face Instability

Guest Blog: Without Living Wages, Women Face Instability

Sister Janet Kinney, CSJ
May 12, 2016

As the Executive Director of Providence House – a Brooklyn nonprofit providing transitional and supportive housing to formerly incarcerated women and homeless women and their children – I hear every day the heart wrenching stories of women struggling to make ends meet, and their searches for suitable employment that will help them care for their children and get back on their feet. Each of them desperately wants to return to the mainstream of life, living in their own apartments. Time and again the frustrations they express are very real – because the wages they receive for the hours they work, just don’t match up to the cost of living here in New York City.

Stories like Marisa’s, a 35-year-old Hispanic woman with a three-year-old daughter who entered the New York City shelter system in September 2015 due to domestic violence abuse. Prior to moving to Providence House she had been working for five years in a bookstore as a barista. In those five years her wage crept up to a mere $9.50/hour. Before taxes this would equate to an income of $1,520/month: barely enough rent for a one bedroom apartment. Add utility costs, food costs, and general living expenses, it was clear that as a single wage earner she needed to either find higher paying employment, take on a second part-time job, or do a combination of the two. Because Marisa did not have a high school diploma her options were limited. She received training as a Home Health Care Aide, and was able to add 15-25 hours of health care work at $10/hour, though the hours are inconsistent: a worry for Marisa as she tries to save while juggling these two jobs.

Then there is Thomasine, a 31-year-old African-American woman with an eight-year-old son. Thomasine is already working two jobs – one as a security guard and the other as a waitress in a restaurant. Her combined income from these two jobs barely hits $1,500/month before taxes. She has now resided in our shelter for two years.

Mary Lou, age 34, a white woman with two children has lived at Providence House just over a year. She is a delivery supervisor at a restaurant, earning $11.25/hour, with a before taxes monthly income of $1,800. Mary Lou is working hard to save her money for the security deposit and first month’s rent of a two bedroom apartment – which range from $1,500-$1,800/month – but again, it is an upward battle.

The economic divide here in New York crosses racial lines, although people of color are disproportionately affected. In New York the minimum wage has just been raised to $9.00/hour and both the mayor and governor are challenging the legislature to adopt a $15.00/hour minimum wage phased in over three years. Across the country, the federal minimum wage is even lower, only $7.25/hour.

Fighting for a living wage is more complicated than simply raising the hourly minimum wage. Workers today face multiple challenges, such as employers increasing part time and contract work, receiving different wages for tipped work, and decreasing benefits.

Living wages also depend on having access to affordable housing and maintaining savings. There was a time when ‘the norm’ was an individual or family dedicating 30 percent of their income to rent, which allowed them to not only pay for other living costs (food, utilities, clothing, medical, transportation) but also contribute to a savings account or pursue further education. The women I work with will be lucky if two-thirds (67 percent) of their income is dedicated to rent. Savings become difficult, if not impossible, so even when one of our group of women can earn enough to afford her own apartment, without savings, she lives on the precipice of future homelessness if any part of her fragile income stream falters.

Living wages ensure workers can care for themselves and their families and meet their housing, nutrition, health, and other needs regardless of where they live. A minimum wage is not enough; we must have living wages.

Sister Janet Kinney, CSJ is the Executive Director of Providence House in Brooklyn, New York,  www.providencehouse.org

This story originally appeared in NETWORK’s Connection magazine. See the full issue here.

Blog: Today’s Poverty Data Release

Blog: Today’s Poverty Data Release

Marge Clark, BVM
Sep 16, 2015

No better, no worse! The U.S. Census Bureau released the poverty statistics for 2014. Compared with 2013, there were no significant differences in the percentages of people living in poverty. “No change” is NOT something to laud in our society!

Again, more than one in every five children (21.1%) lives below the poverty threshold.

Still, more women (16.1%) and more households headed by women (30.6%) live in poverty than is true for men (13.4% and 15.7%).

The median earnings of women who worked fulltime, year-round ($39,621) was 79% of that for men working fulltime, year-round ($50,383).

Generations of white privilege appear to continue to have an impact on the ability to move out of poverty. “White, not Hispanic” persons have a poverty rate of 10.1%, adding in White Hispanics, the total “White” level rises to 12.7%. This is still less than half the 26.2% poverty rate of Blacks.

Does this represent the nation we want? I grapple with this question.

Congress continues to be stuck! They are unable to even talk across the aisle about what our funding priorities need to be. Are we not committed to the belief that “all (men) are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”? One side of the aisle seems dedicated to providing for instruments of war, death and destruction. The other side of the aisle leans toward protecting the rights to food, shelter, clothing, the ability to work, and other expenditures to enhance the quality of life for all of the people.

Poverty has not gotten a lot worse – on average – even though 46.7 million people (14.8% of the population) live below the official poverty level. This level itself is, in most parts of the nation, unlivable. In 2014:

  • 48.1 million Americans (15.4%) were living in food insecure households. (www.frac.org)
  • The national average housing wage for a two-bedroom apartment is two-and-a-half times the minimum wage of $7.25, or $4 more than the average wage of $15.16/hour earned by renters.

(http://nlihc.org/oor)

All of these numbers vary greatly when looked at by state. A visit to any of the websites noted will let you examine the conditions in your own state.

Not all the news is bad!! The U.S. Census Bureau study includes numbers and trends in those having health insurance – truly a huge expense to those who do not. There was a significant change in the numbers/rates of those without health insurance coverage for 2014, compared with 2013. The number of those without health insurance, for all of 2014 was 33.0 million (10.4%), down from 41.8 million (13.3%) in 2013.

A second method of measuring poverty (The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2014) done in conjunction with the Bureau of Labor Statistics was also released today. This provides a deeper understanding of economic conditions. This supplemental measure adds the value of in-kind benefits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, school lunches, housing assistance and refundable tax credits. It takes into consideration the impact of government assistance programs that help keep people from falling into poverty, or help lift them out of poverty. For example, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit kept an additional 3.1% of households with children above the poverty threshold.

The impact of these is amazingly wonderful – and most are in danger of again being cut. The improvements made to the EITC in 2012 are scheduled to go away in 2017. These have been significant in the impact of the EITC on poverty. While Congress continues to give tax dollars back to the very wealthy and to corporations, and to make many of them permanent, they refuse to make permanent improvements in the EITC and the Child Tax Credit.

Do we want, as a nation, to continue to have one in every five of our children living in poverty, in food insecure households, unable to afford excellent child care? Is remaining stagnant who we want to be?

Guest Blog: Reflection on NETWORK’s “Just Advocacy Week”

Reflection on NETWORK’s “Just Advocacy Week”

By Billy Critchley-Menor
July 13, 2015

Originally appeared on the Strength from the Cloud blog

 “We’re not about that polarization crap.”

To many millennials, the Catholic Church has become an outdated and irrelevant institution. Many in our parents’ generation have forgotten, watered down, or walked away from the Church. But what perhaps is even more tragic than the number of people leaving the church, is the divide we find inside it. Growing up in today’s Catholic landscape, millennials are exposed to a heartbreaking and toxic polarization between “liberal” and “conservative” Catholics and are often, it seems, pressured to choose a side, or get out. I am strengthened however, by the millennials I have met who refuse to choose a side and refuse to get out.

Recently, I flew from my home in Duluth, Minnesota, to Washington, D.C. to attend Just Advocacy Week, a week-long training on Catholic social justice and advocacy for college students. The event was put on by NETWORK, the Catholic Social Justice Lobby.  As a long-time fan, spending a week with the organization was almost a dream come true. Although, knowing that NETWORK and the institutional church have both publicly criticized each other on different occasions, I was skeptical of the crowd I would encounter. I expected to spend the week with people who were quick to correct “Catholic” to “liberal Catholic,” people who cared about social justice but demonized the Church and saw the sacraments as secondary. My expectations however, were shattered by the other young people I met.

I anticipated a week that would perpetuate polarization, but instead found beaming hope in millennials who said, “We’re not about that polarization crap.” I encountered a group of college students eager to salt the earth, to defy the stereotypes of their generation, and to serve their Church with the gospel as their guide and the sacraments as strength.

Our current culture tells us that we can’t have a conversation about abortion with differing opinions and still break bread together. It tells us that income inequality and canon law are conversations to be had with separate people, in separate occasions, and only with those who share your opinions on both of them. If we truly live out our Catholic faith however, we will be a paradox in the eyes of the world.

This radiant Catholic paradox is what gives me hope. Over the week the sixteen of us college students engaged in conversations about the Earned Income Tax Credit and women’s ordination. We shared the stories of our different confirmation saints and discussed the tragedy of such low tax rates on capital gains that allow the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. We spent time with Sr. Simone Campbell and learned from her witness to justice on Capitol Hill. We spent some time at the Poor Clares’ in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We spoke with the same passion as we railed against for-profit prisons and lamented the death of innocent children and wrongly convicted men and women. We eagerly awaited, with the rest of the world, the release of Laudato Si and over breakfast and Metro rides, shared incredible wisdom as we read from and tweeted the papal encyclical with our smartphones.  We shed tears over our racist, sexist, and classist culture, but lifted each other up in joy, laughter, and especially in shared prayer. We refused to let our faith be put under a bushel basket.

Putting our faith into action, we closed the week on Capitol Hill lobbying our senators and representatives to make permanent the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. We were not lobbying as Democrats, or Republicans, we were lobbying as Catholics who understood their moral obligation to engage in the political sphere and work to end oppression of those who live on the margins in America.

On our last evening together, our group listened to a recording of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech and were reminded that so many of King’s lamentations in 1963 have been left unresolved. Though, as we shared our own dreams we were empowered with King, and the prophet Isaiah to “dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” It became clear that our passion for justice was rooted in our immense love for God and God’s Church.

This generation of faith is falling in love with the right things. We are falling in love with the Catholic Church and its challenging and radically beautiful paradoxes in a new way. We are falling in love with Catholicism that preaches unity rather than one that requires labels. We are falling in love, and my prayer, like Father Arrupe’s, is that we stay in love and let it decide everything.