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This is a plea for solidarity.
That’s different from a plea for money, I promise. (Although, show me someone who isn’t currently suppressing a primal urge to shout, “Help, we need more money!” and I’ll show you someone who is not only in the top income percentile, but also someone who has been asleep for the past 18 months.) Instead, it is a plea to residents of this Commonwealth, and Catholic residents in particular, to recognize and express their interdependence and common bond with their brothers and sisters in Massachusetts. Let me tell you where this plea is coming from.
I have been preparing this week for a program that will have aired on NECN by the time you read this. It is the first in a series called “Bending the Curve,” put on by The Boston Foundation and NECN to bring attention to the seeming disappearance of the middle class and the growing income and opportunity disparities between the haves and have-nots in Boston. Here’s a run-down of some of the data The Boston Foundation recently reported about the trends behind those disparities:
Massachusetts ranked 4th in the nation in household inequality in 2007.
Of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., Boston ranked 8th in inequality last year.
Greater Boston’s cost of living rose 34 percent between 1999 and 2008, with household energy costs alone increasing by 134 percent.
The minimum self-sufficient income for a four-person family in our area is $62,095, but Boston’s median household income most recently was measured at $48,729.
These poverty statistics show that the U.S., Massachusetts and Boston itself are off the equal opportunity track.
The education statistics are much worse. Increasingly, our public schools serve minority children. Indeed, 85 percent of the students in the Boston Public Schools are minorities. Those children will make up as much as 40 percent of our workforce when they become working age. And yet, currently, only 19 percent of adult African Americans and roughly 38 percent of adult Latinos in Boston hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. With the Boston Public Schools class of 2000 experiencing a 22 percent dropout rate, and only 60 percent of African Americans and 50 percent of Latinos finishing high school in four years, the prognosis for the next generation of local minority children to receive higher education degrees and be prepared for upper-income jobs is poor. That means the prognosis for a workforce that can support a high-skills economy in the future is weak, too.
In a state-of-the-state-for-nonprofits presentation done by Massachusetts’ Associated Grant Makers on the same day as the NECN show, we learned that growing deficits, combined with a jobless recovery and increasing health care costs could lead to up to 70 years of continued income disparity nationally. Right at the new year, we also received confirmation that Massachusetts will have to cut another roughly $3 billion from its budget for Fiscal 2011.
Why do I paint such a bleak picture? Because the dominant victims in this economic turmoil will most certainly be the poor, the marginalized, the minorities and the immigrants. We cannot afford to pursue public policies, and private spending and giving priorities as individual citizens that fail to recognize our common bond in pursuit of prosperity and expression of our human dignity. If we do, we not only will fail the test of how a prosperous society treats its poor, we also will fail the test of whether we can create a vibrant workforce that will carry the Commonwealth’s economy well into this new century. And we will have failed to meet Catholicism’s call to live out our solidarity with one another.
At the end of its recent “Bending the Curve” report, The Boston Foundation quoted John Winthrop as he was helping to found Massachusetts: “We must be knit together in this work... [and] be willing to abridge ourselves of superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must ... make others’ condition our own...as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of spirit in the bond of peace.”
John Winthrop may not have been Catholic, but I believe his message was.
Tiziana C. Dearing is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.