As interfaith and government leaders from across the United States gathered in Washington, D.C., for the 61st National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 6, members of the Congressional Black Caucus hosted the first National Day of Prayer to End Poverty and Income Inequality.
“In my faith tradition, we are called to treat the least among us as we would like to be treated,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.) chair emeritus of the caucus, said in an e-mail to the AFRO. “We have a long, hard road ahead of us before we can say we are doing well by the poor.”
Reducing poverty and closing the income gap has long been a top concern of Black lawmakers on Capitol Hill, whose communities are often among the most vulnerable and among those worst hit by the recession.
The specter of poverty has long haunted communities of color. Nearly 10 million African-Americans, including four in 10 Black children, live in poverty and almost 12 percent of African Americans are unemployed. The latter number does not take into consideration those persons who have been so exhausted and disillusioned by their employment search that they are no longer looking for jobs.
Even as the economic outlook for the nation’s poorest is turning bleaker, amid congressional attempts to cut back on food stamps and to deny jobless benefits to more than a million Americans who have been unemployed long-term, the pockets of the very rich are getting fatter.
According to a recent report released by Oxfam International, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans captured 95 percent of post-recession growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer. The situation is the same across the world as the 85 richest people own the wealth of half of the world’s population.
According to the World Economic Forum’s “Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014,” published in November, this widening wealth disparity is among the top global risks that is “impacting social stability within countries and threatening security on a global scale.”
Only by tackling this income disparity can poverty truly be mitigated, Oxfam Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said in a statement.
“We cannot hope to win the fight against poverty without tackling inequality. Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table,” she said.
“Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations [and] we will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream,” she added. “In too many countries economic growth already amounts to little more than a ‘winner takes all’ windfall for the richest.”
As part of the Congressional Black Caucus’ ongoing “War on Poverty” in this Congress, the group will continue to advocate for an increased federal minimum wage, or living wage. It will also continue to garner support for the Half in Ten Act, which would create and implement a plan to cut poverty in half within 10 years, and it will continue to lobby for bills that create more high-earning jobs.
The caucus also plans to push for the “10-20-30” initiative, which would require that at least 10 percent of federally appropriated money be spent in those communities where 20 percent or more the population has been locked below the poverty level for at least 30 years.
The issues of poverty and income inequality are not merely political, Cleaver said, but moral, and the day of prayer was meant to “awaken” the American consciousness and stir support for the cause.
“While we will always have the poor with us, we are in a pitiful and perilous state if we do not do more to end poverty and income inequality,” Cleaver said. “Only the most perverse reading of the gospels would lead one to believe that the 1 [percent] is where Jesus would have used his unbridled Holy Ghost power. A good question for our Congress is this: the big oil companies receive billions of dollars in federal subsidies while the poor cannot even receive a living wage. So, whose side do you think Jesus would take?”
Other CBC Members plan to host similar prayer events in the near future in their districts with members of their local communities.