Thanks goes out to our President, who last week gave a prelude to our topic for the week, economic justice, in that small, insignificant talk called the State of the Union… Although I can thank my infant twins for keeping me from watching it live, I did catch the lion share of the speech at a later date, which sent a clarion call for economic justice, at least to me. Did you hear the same? With phrases like rebuilding the middle class, raising the minimum wage to livable standards, and the like, the theme of deconstructing and reconstructing our economic infrastructure was hard to miss.
While working as a social worker for the past ten years hardly qualifies me as an expert in economic justice, it certainly has allowed me a great deal of exposure to this realm on both an individual and structural level. I never cease to be amazed and frustrated by how hard some of our brothers and sisters, both down the street and across the globe, have it in order to put food on the table and a roof over their head. Basic human rights are compromised daily, here, there, and everywhere, by how difficult it is to earn a dollar, keep it in your pocket, and spread it far enough to make ends meet. It’s hard to spread that dollar for many because I would posit that economic injustice is built into our social systems. I’ll let you debate whether this structural inequity I’m referencing is purposely arranged, entirely inadvertent, or somewhere in between, but no matter what, it’s there.
What examples have I experienced, you might ask? Well, as I step back and reflect economic justice issues are woven throughout my years on the job. Social work, does an incredibly effective job at illustrating social ills as they impact individual’s lives. For example, I’ve worked with more than my share of undocumented immigrants who pay taxes, but can’t pay their rent each month even though they work more than full-time. I’ve walked with courageous individuals living with HIV/AIDS as they decided between a full-time job, meaning, and health benefits versus minimal employment, federal welfare, and rest. That’s a heck of a decision to have to make, I tell you what. And, I’ve planted seeds with children who’d hardly tasted, much less grown a fresh vegetable. So, while the stories could continue to pour out of me, my task is to set the stage, to do my best to give you the big picture, at least through the lens of a 30-something social worker. So, I’ll pause there and wrap up with what I feel is a strong definition to form the basis of our weeks’ reflections.
The Center for Economic and Social Justice in Washington, D.C. offers a helpful perspective in defining our topic for the week:
Economic justice, which touches the individual person as well as the social order, encompasses the moral principles which guide us in designing our economic institutions. These institutions determine how each person earns a living, enters into contracts, exchanges goods and services with others and otherwise produces an independent material foundation for his or her economic sustenance. The ultimate purpose of economic justice is to free each person to engage creatively in the unlimited work beyond economics, that of the mind and the spirit.
If our society is to grow and thrive in new ways, in ways that enliven the mind and the spirit, as we would all hope, greater equity of participation and distribution of resources are key. We all need a more fair shot at a piece of the pie. And who doesn’t love them some pie?
Molly Robertshaw is Assistant Director for Service and Justice at the CFJ. Recently returning to the job after months on leave with her new baby twins, she is adjusting to functioning in the real world on very little sleep. Despite this challenge, Molly invites you to a hand stand contest, anywhere at any time. She recently picked up this hobby again now that her belly is closer to its normal size.