Economic Justice Task Force Statement of Purpose
The concept of economic justice is central to our Unitarian Universalist faith. The inherent worth and dignity of every human, our recognition of the interdependent web of life, and our belief that the "Beloved Community" must be realized through human effort – all of this requires our attention to how we share the wealth of our planet. As an outgrowth of these principles, we recognize the obligations of society to ensure that all people are able to obtain for themselves and their families the basic material needs of food, shelter, education and safety.
As we join together with other progressive faith communities and social organizations, Unitarian Universalists here in the United States have much work to do to bring about our "Beloved Community." The United States has experienced an ever-widening gap in the distribution of wealth over the past 30 years. In the period leading up to the current recession, the richest 1% of the population received two thirds of the income gains while more families fell into poverty.1 Meanwhile, the minimum wage, when adjusted for inflation, fell below what it was in 1968 and it is estimated that it would take 86 hours of work a week to provide a family with their basic needs. 2
The impact of economic injustice falls most heavily on people who are at the lower end of the economic ladder. Climbing out of poverty becomes even more difficult when faced with inadequate schools, fewer job opportunities, unsafe neighborhoods, cycles of incarceration, and little or no access to health care. However, our entire society is affected by this inequality and the costs are both financial and spiritual. When we cut costs for basic human services, we pay for emergency room visits instead of preventative care and prisons instead of schools. When we participate in exploitive economic systems, anger and frustration take an emotional and spiritual toll. The recent financial collapse has demonstrated that the "interdependent web" is not just a pretty metaphor - the unchecked greed of a powerful few can have dire consequences for the rest of society.
Because cost of housing in NJ (rents and home ownership) has historically been among the highest in the nation, many of the working poor cannot afford housing in neighborhoods that are safe, have decent schools and are near jobs. Many of the working poor spend over 30% of their income on housing. If one family member loses their job, or becomes ill. The family is likely to become homeless. This problem has increased dramatically with the recession. Unfortunately, Latino and Black families are overrepresented in the demographic most affected. Providing homes people can afford is one of the best ways to decrease homelessness. Therefore, advocating for Affordable Housing at the State level, was chosen by the NJUU's, as the most urgent Economic Justice Issue.
(1) The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 1/23/07
(2) From "How Much Do We Deserve" by Richard Gilbert, 2001
Articles and Resrouces of Interest
The following is a statement that was released to the press on behalf of a coalition of faith-based organizations working for affordable housing. The statement was based on the work of the UULMNJ Economic Justice Task Force.
Statement of Faith: Affordable Housing is a Moral and Ethical Issue
As people of faith, we believe that providing safe and affordable housing is a moral and ethical issue. All people, regardless of income or social status, are our brothers and sisters and deserve a place to call horne. Our faith calls us to honor the inherent worth and dignity in each person, the spark of the divine that resides within us all, and to respond with compassion and care when someone cries out for help. But we also know that faith and charity alone are not enough, and systems of poverty, homelessness and hunger must be addressed at a policy level if we are to build healthy communities in New Jersey.
In a society which is wealthy enough to be able to provide decent housing for all, how can we justify not doing so? How can we justify extreme luxury for a few and homelessness for others?
In these difficult economic times, many people are living close to the edge. A job loss or a medical crisis can mean the difference between paying rent and winding up on the streets. Many families who are working hard to make ends meet find themselves with nowhere to go, or overcrowded in small apartments. Rather than provide a social safety net that acknowledges our collective responsibility to care for one another, the state relies on a patchwork of charity and individual philanthropy to serve the needs of the poor. We are here to say that charity is not enough.
There is a terrible shortage of affordable housing which has existed in New Jersey for many years. Despite efforts by the courts to mandate affordable housing, many towns have been quick to adopt discriminatory zoning practices while resisting any attempt to plan for and provide low and moderate income housing. This is a trend that must be reversed.
People who work for low and moderate wages are part of our society, too. They deserve a place to call horne that is safe, clean, affordable and stable. The spirit of love and the goodness of God shines through each and everyone of us, and demands that we stand up for a more just and equitable society.