US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The U.S. wealth gap: A moral scandal

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Greater economic equality is good for the poor and good for all of us, argues one Catholic.

Guest blog post by Stephanie Niedringhaus

Many of us know there is an enormous wealth gap in the United States, but too few recognize this gap as a moral issue. We can no longer afford to ignore it.

First, a few statistics, taken directly from our wealth gap campaign website:

  • The wealthiest 1 percent of our population own more than 90 percemt of us combined.
  • The wealthiest 10 percent of our population own more than 3/4 of the nation’s wealth.
  • The median African American household has less than 10 cents of wealth for every dollar of wealth owned by the median white family.

There is nothing inherently wrong with wealth. The problem comes when disparities grow so enormous that they create harm. 

Pope Benedict recognized the dangers when he wrote in 2009, “The dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require, particularly today, that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive and morally unacceptable manner.”

Research shows that many measures of the wellbeing of a nation (e.g., life expectancy and safe communities) are lower in countries where wealth disparities are highest.

In the United States, our huge wealth gap also chips away at our democracy. Does anyone seriously doubt that big money influences our political process? One need only look at the impact of recent court decisions allowing so-called “super PACs” and others to funnel unlimited amounts of money into electoral politics.

So who loses here? All of us. 

In Washington right now, politicians go out of their way to push for budget cuts that hurt people with limited money or power. What about increasing revenue by raising taxes on the super-rich or eliminating tax loopholes that benefit extremely wealthy corporations? Speaker Boehner says all tax increases are off the table.

Prominent Catholic academics, clergy and others have questioned the morality of current budget proposals and challenged elected officials who support cuts that hurt people in poverty. So far, however, the power of the super-wealthy continues to prevail.

Simply put, our extreme wealth disparities rob us all. This is nothing short of immoral. We must speak out.

On May 19, my organization launched an education campaign to address the wealth gap through the lens of Catholic teaching. Within the first 24 hours, we received far more visitors to our website than ever before so there is clearly pent-up anxiety about this issue.

We now invite U.S. Catholic readers to check out our Mind the Gap! campaign website and to speak out for economic justice.

Guest blogger Stephanie Niedringhaus is the Communications Coordinator for NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.