Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Distribution of Wealth in the US Revisited

The passage of the Republican-engineered tax cut bill on 12/20/2017 exposes once again an underlying issue that haunts this country and may eventually be responsible for the unraveling of the socioeconomic order of this society.

The following link addresses this issue -

Distribution of Wealth in the US

There is a disproportionate concentration of the nation's wealth in the hands of an exceedingly small minority of individuals and families.  As a result, there is limited availability of resources for the remaining population.  This reality lies at the heart of problems that face many millions in terms accessibility to good nutrition, adequate housing, full and meaningful employment, descent health care and adequate educational opportunities.

In addition, this kind of wealth exerts an inordinate influence upon the formulation of public policy; since many members of the political leadership depend upon the largess of affluent donors and their undo influence.

Pope Francis’s Comments on the, “Idolatry of Money” delivered on July 11, 2015 in Asuncion, Paraguay

The following are the comments made by Pope Francis in a speech delivered in Asuncion, Paraguay given on July 11, 2015 during his tour of South America.  This speech was given in order to address some of distressing issues surrounding social and economic injustice that plague so many of the poor worldwide.  He wished to draw the attention of world leaders to the degree to which the global economy is seriously out of balance - tilted in favor of wealth and profit resulting in a severe unequal distribution of wealth resulting in a great deal of human misery experienced by so many of the world's people.

His ideas and comments are certainly worthy of intelligent examination and discussion.

"In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications. At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. A number of diseases are spreading. The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries. The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity. This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occuring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and of life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.

"No to an economy of exclusion
Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

"Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

"In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and na├»ve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

"No to the new idolatry of money
One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.

"While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

"No to a financial system which rules rather than serves
Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement. Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.'

"A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case. Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.

"No to the inequality which spawns violence
Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root. Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear. If every action has its consequences, an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future. We are far from the so-called “end of history”, since the conditions for a sustainable and peaceful development have not yet been adequately articulated and realized.

"Today’s economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric. Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve. It serves only to offer false hopes to those clamouring for heightened security, even though nowadays we know that weapons and violence, rather than providing solutions, create new and more serious conflicts. Some simply content themselves with blaming the poor and the poorer countries themselves for their troubles; indulging in unwarranted generalizations, they claim that the solution is an “education” that would tranquilize them, making them tame and harmless. All this becomes even more exasperating for the marginalized in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries – in their governments, businesses and institutions – whatever the political ideology of their leaders."

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Seattle/King County Modified Plan to End Homelessness

The ambitious plan undertaken by the Seattle and King County governments to end homelessness in ten years has reached its deadline, and, of course, homelessness is very much the persistent and nagging issue that it always was and is growing progressively worse.  It is a complex problem that has been discussed at length on this site on the page entitled, "Homelessness."  There are many factors that contribute to this appalling condition of existence, but foremost among them is the glaring inequitable distribution of wealth that has effectively drained the public financial resources that are a crucial and critical piece of the puzzle.

Realizing  that under the current conditions, the expectation that homelessness will end anytime soon will create false hope, the Seattle/King County governmental bodies have now put forward a modified plan that has three stated goals -

  • Making Homelessness Rare
  • Making Homelessness Brief and One-time
  • Building a Community of Support. 
The details of this ambition undertaking are enumerated on the official Website entitled, "ALLHOME (  A fundamental part of the overall strategy is the so-called, Coordinated Entry for All (CEA).  To implement this strategy, "regionally-based resource centers - regional access points (RAP) - will be created to serve as the primary front-door for our homeless housing system."

It is envisioned that these resource centers - strategically placed throughout the county - would provide appropriate services to all segments of the homeless community  including homeless families, single adults and those young individuals seventeen years and younger.  About one million dollars is currently budgeted for up to five RAPs to be run by community-based agencies.  Agencies wishing to participate have until April 7 of 2016 to submit applications.  A so-called, "bidders conference" will be held on March 24.  Once these RAPs have proven successful, they will afforded access to additional public monies.

The one glaring reality, however, that overshadows these ambitious efforts is the fact that there is a real and substantial shortage of affordable housing.  Nonetheless, it is a laudable effort and will undoubtedly have a positive impact upon those who have found themselves homeless.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mental Illness and the Homeless

It has recently been reported that 1 out of every 17 individuals in the U.S. suffers from mental illness - that translates to approximately 20.5 million people.  This is a significant number of individuals plagued by this galaxy of diseases that disrupts mental processes.  Those of us who function “normally” do not fully recognize how much processing - within the circuitry of the human brain – is ordinarily required to perform even the most mundane activities.  The daily tasks that are required to work every day, for example, include waking up on time, preparing for the day doing such things as showering, brushing one’s teeth, preparing clothes, planning for the day’s eventualities, taking a bus or train or driving a car.  All of these tasks must be performed in an orderly, precise and timely fashion.  These functions are required simply to get to a place of employment not to mention all the social skills, capabilities, human interactions, use of learned abilities and reliable memory, timeliness, prioritizing of goals etc. that are the minimal requirements to accomplish rather complex work-related functions successfully.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “20 to 25% of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness.” This compares to the 6% of the general population that is afflicted with mental illness as reported by the National Institute of Mental Health, 2009. In addition, a survey was conducted in 25 U.S. cities in which the question was posed as to what were the three major causes of homelessness for single adults. The results of this investigation indicated that mental illness was ranked as the third largest cause.  In addition, mental illness was also indicated as playing a significant role as a cause of homelessness among families.  This is not surprising given the fact that living with a mentally ill individual places significant stresses upon the entire family.  Additional fallout from these and similar studies is that individuals with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are particularly vulnerable.
There is yet another level to this issue that adds further complexity and concern –a strong correlation exists between the state of mental health in an individual and the corresponding status of overall physical health.  Individuals that are constantly distracted, confused and disoriented by mental disease are far less likely to pay attention to their physical well-being.  They are far more likely to ignore significant warning signs that would ordinarily send people to their physicians.    Furthermore, they are more likely to contract HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis or other communicable diseases.  They pay less attention to their personal hygiene and often place themselves in dangerous situations that often lead to bodily harm.
In addition, it has been reliably estimated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that approximately one-half of the mentally ill homeless in the United States also are substance abusers.  It is a well-established fact that many sufferers from mental illness use drugs as a form of self-medication.

These extensive studies regarding the real implications of mental illness demonstrate that the individual overtaken by aberrations within the functioning brain experiences a satellite of related conditions including substance abuse and the resulting poor physical health.  These conditions when taken together make it very difficult to find reliable employment and ultimately adequate shelter.

In spite of the fact that the scientific disciplines of Neurobiology and Neuroscience have elucidated many of the biological and biochemical mechanisms that are responsible for the galaxy of symptoms that are collectively regarded as mental illness, there remains a great deal of suspicion and the resulting stigma that is associated with those who are afflicted by mental illness.  This kind of fallacious preconception regarding mental illness obscures the indisputable reality that mental illness is a result of definitive imbalances in the biochemistry and function of the human brain.  The society, at large, has inadequately addressed this issue in a way that could produce meaningful help and remediation for those who suffer from mental illness.  A reevaluation of the status of the mentally ill and homelessness would certainly be in the public interest. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thought provoking, informative, nuanced, candid, charged....fascinating panel discussion with Alison Eisinger (Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness) and Timothy Harris (Real Change)...discussing political advocacy, charity downstream and justice upstream: housing inequality and advocating for the homeless and moderated by Shannon Thomas.

Monday, February 4, 2013

David Bloom on Homelessness

Rev. David Bloom is an ordained American Baptist minister with many years of experience in parish ministry and thirty years in ecumenical leadership in Seattle on social justice issues.  Rev. Bloom served as an associate director for urban ministry at the Church Council of Greater Seattle (1978-1997),  He gave this talk on February 3, 2013 at the Alki UCC Church in West Seattle.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Homelessness in America – Why are we Incapable of Taking Care of our Own?

A recent report (2009) indicated that there are currently 40,000 homeless in New York City.  This is a staggering statistic – this number is equivalent to the entire population of a small town.  Given the harsh winters in New York, this is a very disturbing reality.  New York is by no means unique in this regard.  The following table shows homelessness statistics for the entire nation as of 2009.

In addition, there are many millions of individuals at a greater risk for homelessness as the following table indicates

Note – These data are taken from the National Report on Homelessness from the National Alliance to End Homelessness

These data clearly demonstrate that the major causes for homelessness are the prohibitive cost of housing, unemployment and poverty - conditions that are further aggravated by housing foreclosures.

Despite the economic downturn, a decrease by 1% in homelessness across America between 2009 and 2011 was found in a report issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  The following were some of the findings issued in this report –

·         “The nation’s homeless population decreased 1 percent, or by about 7,000 people; it went from 643,067 in 2009 to 636,017 in 2011. There were a decreased number of people experiencing homelessness in most of the subpopulations examined in this report: families, individuals in families, chronic, and individuals. The only increase was among those unsheltered.

·         The largest decrease was among homeless veterans, whose population declined 11 percent. The number of homeless veterans went from 75,609 in 2009 to 67,495 in 2011, a reduction of about 8,000.
·         The national rate of homelessness was 21 homeless people per 10,000 people in the general population. The rate for veterans was 31 homeless veterans per 10,000 veterans in the general population.
·         Chronic homelessness decreased by 3 percent from 110,911 in 2009 to 107,148 in 2011. The chronically homeless population has decreased by 13 percent since 2007. The decrease is associated with an increase in the number of permanent supportive housing beds from 188,636 in 2007 to 266,968 in 2011. Permanent supportive housing ends chronic homelessness.

·         A majority of homeless people counted were in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs, but nearly 4 in 10 were unsheltered, living on the streets, or in cars, abandoned buildings, or other places not intended for human habitation. The unsheltered population increased by 2 percent from 239,759 in 2009 to 243,701 in 2011, the only subpopulation to increase.
·         The number of individuals in homeless families decreased by 1 percent nationally, but increased by 20 percent or more in 11 states.
·         While the homeless population decreased nationally, it increased in 24 states and the District of Columbia.”
Note – I have purposefully underlined those aspects of the report that I believe warrant special attention.

The horrific state of homelessness impacts men, women, children, the old and the young, the mentally ill and even the handicapped.  There are, in fact, whole families that are homeless.  It is not uncommon for families to be homeless in which the head of the household is employed.  In my mind, there is no justifiable reason for anyone to be homeless in America; the suffering that is endured by so many is wholly unnecessary.  Consider the extent of the waste evident in the federal budget especially in regards to military expenditures and the ludicrous concessions made to corporations with the help of the legions of lobbyists paid exorbitant sums to extricate concessions from an essentially apathetic and pliant Congress.  Consider the vast transfer of public wealth to private hands that has transpired within the last thirty years.  Consider the corruption that is so evident within local governments.  These are governments that often pander to wealth and find all manner of rationales to ignore the plight of so many of their citizens.
National priorities should gravitate around meaningful solutions to societal problems and conditions that lead to unwarranted and unnecessary suffering on the part of those who are effectively economically and politically powerless to change their state of being - with special regard to children.  Homelessness and hunger are issues that need to be placed at the top of the list.  Not to do so, is, in my judgment, morally indefensible.
The state of homelessness in America is evidence of the seemingly pervasive cultural indifference to the living conditions of those less fortunate.  This is a troubling aspect of American life.  It need not be the case, however.  This nation is woefully out of balance.  What is required is a sense of urgency in meeting the needs of those who are in crisis.  What is required is a serious reevaluation of what we, as a people, collectively regards as important and worthy of immediate attention.  In my mind, to ignore those who suffer unnecessarily is to effectively undermine the future.