Category Archives: Income

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.

Blog: NETWORK Participates in Historic Conference on Poverty

Blog: NETWORK Participates in Historic Conference on Poverty

Sarah Spengemen
May 15, 2015

In Washington, we hear politicians on both the left and the right talking every day about “the middle class,” but seldom do they mention the term “poverty.” Political consultants tell candidates that talking about the middle class inspires hope, while talking about poverty sounds too gloomy—people just don’t want to hear it they say.  At NETWORK, we know that the political consultants are wrong, people are hungry for change in this country and they are looking for leaders. This week we were able to participate in a conference held at Georgetown University on “Overcoming Poverty,” which aimed to change the national conversation so that we can begin to address our current reality—45 million Americans living in poverty today.

What was unique about this conference was that it intentionally brought together over one hundred Catholic and Evangelical faith leaders from around the country to talk about how to get poverty on the national agenda, and also to identify real solutions to poverty that all of us, progressives and conservatives alike, could support.  NETWORK was privileged to be invited to this unique conference and to contribute to the dialogue about how we can end the scandal of millions of Americans who remain in poverty despite living in the wealthiest nation on earth.

The conference was organized by Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life and the National Association of Evangelicals and was inspired by the recent book by social scientist Robert Putnam on child poverty and social mobility in America entitled Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. Putnam spoke to us the first night of the conference, and he described an America today that is dramatically changed from the America of his youth.

Americans, Putnam argues, used to think of all of the kids in the community as “our kids,” and our public investments showed that. We invested in after-school programs, in public parks and recreation centers, in our elementary schools and in our universities. We knew that the success of the whole community depended on the success of every child.  And in the years between World War II and the early 1970s it was entirely possible to be born into a poor family, but to grow up to find a job that would pay you enough to join the ranks of the middle class and to support your family. Children born in the 1950s and 60s were able to break out of poverty and to achieve the “American Dream.” Not so today.  In his book and at the conference, Putnam says that the statistics and the stories tell us that kids today born into poverty are likely to remain in poverty. We as a community have stopped investing in them as young people, and as wages have stagnated and unions have declined, there very few opportunities for them to escape poverty as adults.

The next morning Robert Putnam was joined by President Barack Obama and Arthur Brooks for a conversation about poverty facilitated by E.J. Dionne. First of all, it is highly unusual for a sitting president to participate in a panel discussion, but for those of us who have been watching Obama closely for the past decade, we also know that it is unusual for the President to speak out so boldly about poverty. Hearing him do so was very encouraging.

The President called out an “anti-government ideology” for disinvesting in our communities and for consistently blocking new investments. He said that our current budgets show our unwillingness to make the investments that are proven to lift people out of poverty: “You look at state budgets, you look at city budgets, and you look at federal budgets, and we don’t make those same common investments that we used to.  And it’s had an impact.  And we shouldn’t pretend that somehow we have been making those same investments.  We haven’t been.  And there’s been a very specific ideological push not to make those investments.”

He went on to say that until we are willing to talk seriously about raising revenues, about making sure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share, until then, we are not serious about addressing poverty in this nation: “That’s where the question of compassion and ‘I’m my brother’s keeper’ comes into play.  And if we can’t ask from society’s lottery winners to just make that modest investment, then, really, this conversation is for show.” Also encouraging was hearing Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute, who was also on the panel, call on conservatives to “declare peace on the safety net.”  But as Obama pointed out, we need to be able to pay for those programs and the only way is through a more equitable tax system.

Later that same evening we were privileged to hear from Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), who spoke with passion about mass incarceration in the United States. We are not the land of the free, he declared, when we have only 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prisoners. He said he is making it his mission while he is a Senator to end mass incarceration as we know it in the United States. He is hopeful that we can do this and we can do this soon, but he asked for the support of the faith leaders present at the conference and for us to reach out to our networks. He challenged us by affirming that it is people of faith who should be the leaders of the movement to end a racist institution that destroys lives and breaks up families.

The following day’s sessions were an opportunity for participants to dialogue about what we, as leaders coming from the Catholic and Evangelical traditions and as progressives and conservatives, could agree on in terms of a common agenda. Everyone at the conference agreed that the visit of Pope Francis to the United States and his speech to Congress will be a watershed moment and will create more opportunity than we have had in a decade to talk about poverty at the national level. We also all agreed to use the 2016 election to get candidates to debate solutions to poverty. We as people of faith need to insist that candidates explain specifically how they plan to reduce the poverty rate by half during their term in office. We also agreed on a legislative agenda, knowing that even in this very partisan climate, we can get representatives on both side of the aisle to agree on a plan to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.

Our time hearing from and being able to dialogue with faith leaders on the issue of poverty at the Georgetown conference gave us at NETWORK great hope that we will make progress and that there is a brighter future for the most vulnerable members of our nation. We know that it will not be easy, but we also know that people of faith have historically been leaders of all the great reform movements in our history from abolition, to the Progressive Era, to civil rights. We can do it again and we will.

Blog: Raise the Wage Act a Good First Step

Raise the Wage Act a Good First Step

Carolyn Burstein
May 13, 2015

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced legislation on April 30 that would raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour. Their bill would phase out the sub-minimum wage (usually given to “tipped” workers) and would set regular increases to the minimum wage to keep up with the median wage (not indexed with the cost-of-living, as some have demanded).

They introduced the bill to help nearly 38 million workers by lifting them and their families out of poverty, and to increase their earnings by more than $100 billion over the next five years.

This bill refreshes the debate on the issue. While President Obama called for an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in the 2014 State of the Union address and the legislation was introduced in the 113th Congress, the bill, as we all know, never became law. Nor is there much likelihood that this Congress will pass such legislation, especially in light of House Speaker John Boehner’s comment that he’d “commit suicide before [voting] on a clean minimum wage bill” (Fortune, 4/29/2015).

Let’s hope the bill was introduced seriously as a good first step toward offering minimum wage workers a “living wage,” fighting the wage stagnation that has been holding back economic growth. Skeptics are already saying that the bill is intended to score political points as the 2016 presidential election cycle gets underway. The problem with this criticism is that nearly everything takes on political coloration during any election cycle.

The real problem with a $12 minimum wage is that from a social justice viewpoint it is still inadequate. A full-time $12-an-hour worker would still earn only slightly more than $24,000 per year, which is about the equivalent of the 2015 national federal poverty level for a family of four, but below the poverty line and far less than adequate in many urban jurisdictions. Despite these facts, let’s concede that, if passed, millions of workers would benefit and that such an increase would be a favorable step in the right direction.

Reasons for Passing the “Raise the Wage Act”

In 2014, about 75% of Americans – including 53% of Republicans – approved raising the $7.25 per hour minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, so there is broad support for a raise. As yet, we have no polls at the $12 figure, but in a significant number of states we do have a ballot measures supporting an increase as well as a referendum recommending an increase.

An Economic Policy Institute (EPI) research paper entitled “The Economy Can Afford to Raise the Minimum Wage to $12 by 2020” indicated that a minimum wage increase to $12 an hour would roughly restore the relationship between the minimum wage and workers in the middle relative to 1968 levels when the minimum wage was at its historic peak. EPI makes clear that the value of the minimum wage today is 24% less than it was in 1968 despite the fact that workers today are twice as productive as they were back then. Thus, $12 an hour is a very modest proposal. If the minimum wage had kept up with productivity, it would be $18.30 today.

It is not only productivity that has increased substantially since 1968, but also the education and experience of minimum-wage workers. As EPI’s research paper illustrates: “Significant increases in the productivity, education, and experience of low-wage workers mean that not only should wages be higher, but also that the economy can afford to pay those wages. In 1968 only 17% of workers in the bottom fifth of the wage distribution had some college education or more. By 2012, the percent of workers in the bottom fifth with at least some college education had risen to 46%. And the productivity of low-wage workers has also doubled since 1968.”

As the UC Berkeley Labor Center notes: “Real hourly wages of the median American worker were just 5% higher in 2013 than they were in 1979, while the wages of the bottom decile of earners were 5% lower in 2013 than in 1979. Trends since the early 2000s are even more pronounced. Inflation-adjusted wage growth from 2003 to 2013 was either flat or negative for the entire bottom 70 percent of the wage distribution.” And this problem of stagnating wages is compounded by the decline in employer-based health insurance as well as the prevalence of employees with health insurance paying more for it.

Nearly three-quarters of those enrolled in major public support programs (such as food stamps, – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, TANF – Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program, CHIP) are members of working families.

Data compiled by UC Berkeley Labor Center indicates that combined federal/state spending on public assistance amounts to $152 billion per year. Thus, American taxpayers are subsidizing businesses which pay poverty-level wages to their workers!

Raising the minimum wage to $12 per hour would have the greatest impact on women because they constitute about two-thirds of those receiving a minimum wage. And these women are not teenagers, as they may have been in the past. CAP research shows that less than 5% of teenage girls under the age of 18 constitute minimum-wage workers, whereas all the rest are over 18 and one-third are working mothers. Women of color would especially benefit from the “Raise the Wage Act,” since they constitute the largest segment of minimum-wage workers.

Senator Baldwin’s Letter to the SEC

If workers’ wages are nearly stagnant and growing at the slowest pace since the 1960s despite healthy corporate profits and increasing worker productivity, then a major question is exactly how companies are spending their profits. The major disconnection between profits and wages is due to companies’ expending a prominent part of their profits on stock buybacks and dividends, which enrich shareholders to the detriment of workers and other long-term investments. These facts partly explain Senator Tammy Baldwin’s (D-WI) letter at the end of April to the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC).

In her letter, Senator Baldwin called attention to the growing trend of stock buybacks, which corporate executives are increasingly using for shareholder profits instead of making investments in their workers. Specifically, Senator Baldwin requested any analysis that the agency has done about the impact of a rule it issued about stock buybacks and its influence in driving up the price of a company’s stock. Baldwin noted the negative effect stock buybacks have on jobs, wages and investment, which, in turn, have negative impacts on innovation and long-term economic growth and competitiveness.

William Lazonick, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts who has studied the issue of stock buybacks for years, called Baldwin’s letter unique because “no one has ever asked the SEC anything about stock buybacks and the rules that are supposed to regulate it.” Lazonick says that getting this kind of information about the monitoring of market manipulation is an important step in bringing about change. Whether that change would translate into a living wage for all workers is a question.

Conclusions

Even though the latest economic data show that overall economic growth is rising, the pace and scale of this growth is not translating into real gains for working families, the majority of whom remain economically vulnerable. As a CAP Issue Brief stated on April 29, “Long-term unemployment is still high, as is poverty and economic inequality. And wages are growing very slowly, while employers are offering few benefits to their employees. The result is that American middle-class families of all stripes – but especially communities of color, single women, and households with less education – continue to struggle economically in this expanding economy.”

Despite these facts, this current Congress has focused on repealing the estate tax for millionaires and billionaires as well as passed a budget that would wreak havoc on the public safety-net programs on which most of the economically vulnerable depend.

The Raise the Wage Act is an important step in the struggle for a living wage. Companies should foster a sense of social responsibility so that those benefiting from a business’ growth perceive the relationship between a healthy economy and the public goods/services that enable it to thrive. This sense of social responsibility should translate into a positive view of the taxes that are needed to maintain these public goods/services. Eventually, it is hoped that a sense of social responsibility will progress into a strong belief in social justice, whereby the good of the community (or the “common good”) supplants rampant individualism. Only then will current economic imbalances be replaced with greater economic equity and a steady diminution of poverty.

Blog: Work Needs to Pay; Work Needs to Work

Work Needs to Pay; Work Needs to Work

By Marge Clark, BVM
May 1, 2015

No household with a person working fulltime should be living below the poverty threshold. Yet, that is the case for millions of Americans. Work needs to pay! The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour provides a fulltime employee $15,080 annually. In 2014, the poverty threshold for a single person was $12,316; for a family of four it is over $24,000, leaving families in severe poverty although they are working fulltime. When the minimum wage went into effect, a household could meet all their needs – including mortgage payments. This is far from the case today.

The recently proposed rise in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would still leave millions of households in dire poverty. This would yield $21,008 annually – before taxes!

NETWORK strongly supports the newest proposal for raising the minimum wage to $12.00 per hour by 2020. Two added benefits are that it would apply to tip workers, and that the base would increase with inflation each year.

Work needs to work for workers, families and households. Additional legislation is critical for this: equal pay for equal work, paid sick days, paid leave, and reasonable accommodations for women who are pregnant and with young children.

Therefore, NETWORK strongly supports a package of bills:

 

  • Raise the Wage Act: U.S. Senator Patty Murray (Wash.) and Representative Robert “Bobby” Scott (Va.) introduced the Raise the Wage Act, which would benefit 37.7 million workers—and the businesses that serve them—by gradually raising the minimum wage to $12 by 2020. (S.115)
  • Healthy Families Act: U.S. Senator Patty Murray (Wash.) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (CT) introduced (Feb. 12, 2015) this bill allowing workers to earn paid sick days.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): provides an important job protection for lower-wage workers, expected and provided in higher-paying jobs. This would allow a food service worker with the flu to stay home, protecting you and other customers.
  • Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Many states have legislation going beyond the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978); however, gaps continue in many states, and the protections afforded vary greatly. Federal legislation would be most assistive.
  • Paycheck Fairness Act: Amends the portion of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 known as theEqual Pay Act to revise remedies for, enforcement of, and exceptions to prohibitions against sex discrimination in the payment of wages.

 

The above areas are among pieces of legislation that support workers – for many, making it possible to work and to care for family.