We are called
BridgeND | Wednesday, February 24, 2016
“But you too, help one another: help one another always. One another. In this way, by helping one another, we will do some good.” – Pope Francis
“Through clouds of breath and falling snow, one sees the towering skyscrapers of the Inner Harbor casting shade over the Charles Street homeless shelter. The only signs of the exorbitant lifestyles lived by those within the towers are the tire skid marks left by Mercedes Benz and Corvettes, quickly speeding away so as not to be too wholly exposed to those who “didn’t work hard enough.” The weary eyes of those sleeping at bus stops and under bridges plead for help as their bodies sit stagnant, frail and frozen. This is not a cry for comfort, but a struggle for survival. A fight to live, often unseen through the tinted windows of luxury cars. Women, men, children. It makes no difference. The sharp wounds of poverty often leave so many crippled under the thumb of societal oppression. Unable to break the cycle, generation after generation falls into a socioeconomic trap as gold-plated nets refuse to rescue them so as not to soil hard-earned commodities. Perhaps the benefit of the doubt needs be given. It is often difficult to see the projects from the penthouse.”
The passage above was written soon after walking the streets of downtown Baltimore, Maryland, earlier this winter. I was so shaken by what I saw, words could barely describe the juxtaposition between the poor and affluent within the city. Over the next few months, I found my mind wandering off, contemplating the economic thrall that so firmly encapsulates many within the United States. Clearly this scene portrays an extreme case of income inequality, but after reading Mimi Teixeira’s Jan. 27 column, “Is income inequality that bad?” and the subsequent responses, I believe income inequality is a far more extensive issue than I observed on Charles Street.
The purpose of this column is not to evince esoteric economic principles regarding income inequality, nor to place those within positions of economic power in a light which is degrading and disrespectful in nature, as affluence is not a negative attribute. Quite honestly, I believe the letters written in response to Mimi Teixeira adequately address the question as to whether or not economic inequality is degradative to American society. Judging from the beginning of this article, it is quite clear I would proclaim the affirmative when faced with this question. However, I wish not to pose economic inequality as a “red” or “blue” issue but one that is a humanitarian crisis within the United States. Beginning with the presupposition that the level of income inequality which persists in the United States is a problem, the question therefore is, “Where do we go from here?”
In no way do I wish to imply income inequality is completely avoidable. On the contrary, within a capitalist society, inequality will exist and will often stand alongside other ills such as infrastructure, education and healthcare inequality, to name just a few. Once one comes to the realization inequalities exist within American society, it is quite clear to see the compounding effect that leads to intergenerational propagation. The argument for many then boils down to whether liberal or conservative economic principles lessen the impact of these specific inequalities. I find these arguments highly inconsequential. Certainly civil discourse in regards to political policy is necessary within any sort of government system. But there are more productive ways to address this issue.
According to a Pew Research Center study in Oct. 2015, only 19 percent of people in the U.S. said they trust the government. With that being said, why do we trust the government to take care of income inequality? A hunger nonprofit, such as Feeding America, is able to distribute more than two billion pounds of food and grocery products per year. Nine percent of those from low-income families graduate from a four-year college. However, 45 percent of alumni from KIPP, an education nonprofit, obtain a college degree.
These are but two examples of nonprofits making a difference and combating the effects of income inequality. One may be skeptical as to the efficiency with which non-governmental organizations can address income inequality. That is a legitimate concern. However, the efficiency of NGOs cannot possibly be less than what is currently found on Capitol Hill. What is certain is the fact that poor education, nutrition, infrastructure, etc. are directly tied to the continuance of economic disparities. Institutions run by the community at large can and do address these issues.
Moral or ethical code is not necessarily annexed to any particular religion or even to religion itself, but as students of the University of Notre Dame, I find it necessary to mention a few of the themes of Catholic Social Teaching: Life and Dignity of the Human Person, Option for the Poor and Vulnerable, The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers and Solidarity. These themes are not specifically a call to action for governmental entities, but for us, the people. A monumental impact can be made on society when citizens work together to address an issue. Mother Teresa said in regards to her life’s work amongst the poor, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
Government policies can have a great impact on income inequality. Debate over the ways in which income inequality can be addressed on a federal and state level is necessary. However, the unparalleled thew that is within our hands far supersedes that which exists in Washington. It may be an uphill battle, but at the end of the day, each one of us has a civic duty to end the cyclical nature of generational inequalities. It does not matter if the net is gold-plated or otherwise symbolic of a lower class, we are all called to do our part. With this, we will achieve a better functioning and more cohesive society and address inequalities in all forms.
Armani “Niko” Porter is currently a sophomore living in Keough Hall majoring in neuroscience and behavior and theology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.