The Wealth Gap and Worker Justice

Pam Shearman |

Last week more than 200 faith leaders, worker center leaders and workers convened in Chicago to participate in the Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) National Conference and discuss strategies targeted at wage disparity, wage theft and all workers’ rights to a safe and healthy workplace.

Wage disparity is one of the greatest economic problems in the U.S. today. Even since the recession of 2008, “after-tax corporate profits in America are at their highest levels since World War II, while workers are receiving a smaller share of economic output than at any other time since 1952,” reported the Washington Times. “Seventy-six percent of people in this country live paycheck to paycheck,” the Washington Times quoted Roberts, CEO of STA Wealth Management

How do you stack up? Ask yourself the following eight questions:

  • Do you hold a permanent full time job with paid sick time and paid vacation time?
  • Do you earn enough from your job so that you do not need assistance programs to live?
  • Are you paid your wages in full, on time?
  • Do you get a pay stub that shows your hours worked, your pay calculation and all deductions from your wages?
  • Do you receive health and safety training on the job?
  • Does the company you work for offer profit sharing?
  • Are all the adult members of your family self-supporting so that you don’t have to be their safety net?
  • Do you expect to have enough money to meet your needs in retirement?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, you’re ahead of millions of underpaid workers in the U.S.

“Hard work no longer assures the American dream” reported For the middle class, it’s been one step forward, two steps back for several decades. The result is the biggest gap in wealth in a century as shown in the report:

  • “The gap between the top 10 percent and the middle class is well over 1,000 percent...
  • The average employee needs to work more than a month (more than 160 hours) to earn what the (average) CEO earns in one hour…
  • One percent of America has 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, but the bottom 80 percent has only 7 percent (of the wealth).”

How appropriate are the words of Abraham Lincoln, “There has never been but one question in all civilization – how to keep a few (people) from saying to many (people): “You work and earn bread, and we will eat it.”

We are all engaged together in building the American economy. At the IWJ conference, faith and labor leaders reminded us that the struggles that others experience will eventually arrive at our own doorsteps. One of the faith leaders reminded us to build carefully and with justice so that the economy won’t come “a-tumbling down” around us like the walls of Jericho.

How do we build an economy that sits on a solid foundation? We can continue working to create good jobs that offer an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. We can support initiatives for a living wage for families. We can share in the profits that we’ve contributed to. Let’s follow the vision of the prophet Isaiah says (Isaiah 65:21-22):

"My people shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat. For like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands."

Pam is a seminarian joining Interfaith Worker Justice this summer for clinical pastoral education, she will be reflecting each week on her experiences.