Catholic social teaching and the increasing wage gap

Have you ever been invited to Bill Gates’ house? Neither have I, so I was intrigued by a 2018 article in Business Insider, which gave a glimpse into his digs.

The place was valued at $127 million back then. It boasted a 2500 square foot exercise facility, including a trampoline room with 20-foot ceilings, a 2300 square foot reception room for little get-togethers, and six kitchens so the staff could accommodate guests’ needs quickly.

As you might expect, the residence is full of high-tech gadgetry. Guests are given a pin when they arrive that interacts with sensors throughout the place. So, name your preferred room temperature and lighting, and those preferences follow you around the house. Don’t like the art in your bedroom? There are $80,000 worth of computer screens throughout, so you change the artwork in your room at a whim. And the list goes on.

Maybe it’s not fair to pick on Gates, of course. He’s been relatively generous with his money, and probably every other billionaire in the U.S. has a similar lifestyle, even those who are currently preoccupied with hurtling themselves into space.

But shortly after seeing that piece, I noticed that the National Low Income Housing Coalition came out with their annual report, “Out of Reach.” It finds that people working at minimum wage jobs full-time cannot afford a modest two-bedroom apartment in any state in the country and that in 93% of the country, those same workers can’t even afford a one-bedroom.

The statistics are based on using the standard maximum of one-third of your income for housing.

Imagine two people, with a child or two, trying to rent a two-bedroom apartment and both working minimum wage jobs. Then add the cost of childcare. How do people survive?

It’s no wonder there seems to be a mini-revolt occurring in which people are refusing to work at minimum wage jobs. I’m not sure what the alternative is, but I also can see why folks are asking themselves, what’s the point? It must seem hopeless.

The juxtaposition of Bill Gates’ income, which, like that of most millionaires and billionaires in the U.S. grew dramatically during the recent pandemic, and the plight of the poor and marginalized in this country is scandalous.

And recently, a ProPublica expose claims that the 25 wealthiest Americans pay little or no federal tax. They are not doing anything illegal by this negligence. Instead, they are relying on our crazy tax code, which allows this.

No wonder there is an increasing gap between the rich and poor. Why, we might ask, doesn’t somebody do something about this? Well, consider this. The guy working at McDonald’s doesn’t have much money to donate to political action committees and campaigns. But the billionaire can hand off millions and be the deal breaker over whether someone gets that nice job in Congress. So who gets the politician’s ear? Add to this the breathtaking complexity of our tax law.

If you read about Catholic social teaching, which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website calls “a central and essential element of our faith,” the word justice appears over and over.

Is it justice that we haven’t raised the federal minimum wage in years? Is it justice that you and I and the working poor pay federal taxes, and apparently, my fellow Nebraskan Warren Buffett pays little or none?

“Our commitment to the Catholic social mission must be rooted in and strengthened by our spiritual lives,” says the USCCB. But our faith is not just a private venture. We need to speak out for justice.


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