While your editorial on our community’s anti-poverty efforts acknowledges the need for systemic change if we are to lower the level of poverty in our region, it fails to draw attention to the one measurably effective way of getting people out of poverty: wage justice. In this county there are more than 20,000 people being paid wages that leave them in poverty. How do people making less than $18 an hour afford to live here and what hope have they of moving up? Each week, faced with low income and the cost of rent (between $700 and $800/ month) and child care (between $150 and $250/week per child), families of hard-working men and women find themselves simply in the poverty grind.
We need to face the reality of our economy: Wages that provide for less than self-sufficient resources perpetuate poverty in our midst. Perhaps we need to hear the prophets of old who decried the hoarding of wealth as an idolatrous way of life. At a time of national self-examination Jeremiah spoke of the sin of greed as a national failure. (Jer. 8:10)
It is obscene that in this affluent country men and women are kept in poverty while many enjoy salaries way in excess of what it takes to live comfortably in this region. It is just wrong to believe that we can solve the problem of poverty if we do not address the distribution of wealth. Your editorial correctly says that all segments of our economy must be held accountable. Yes to solve this problem of inequity we need public institutions, faith communities, corporations, and even small business to review how people are paid in their employ. Every business plan should include a level of wages that provides for self-sufficiency.
Poverty is not a poor people’s problem; it is our problem. We who benefit from the vast wealth of this economy have a moral obligation to see that wealth is shared justly. How about a campaign to designate businesses and organizations with the label, “ We pay sufficiency wages”? RMAPI seems to be focusing solely on the mentoring of people as if their state of being poor had something to do with what is lacking in them. It is another form of blaming the victim.
Three years ago we learned from Thomas Picketty (Capital in the Twenty–First Century) that the free flow of money leads to the accumulation of money by the few at the expense of the many. We need to be unafraid of regulating money in such a way that it is distributed fairly. As Jesus once said, “To whomsoever much is given, much will be required.”
- The Rev. Peter W. Peters, Ph.D., is retired and active in several community groups.