by Fred Kammer, SJ
A new study by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development in Oakland reminds us once again that family income is not the only indicator of the well-being of people in the household, especially children. Family assets—wealth—are critical to child development, good health, good education, security, and dreams of a better future.
In Diverging Pathways: How Wealth Shapes Opportunity for Children, the authors underscore how children of color live in the most economically fragile households, concentrated in pockets of racialized poverty where schools are often deficient, streets are violent, housing stock is deficient, and transportation, jobs, and stores with healthy foods are not readily available. These all affect what Americans say we prize: equal opportunity.
The authors detail a number of critical disparities between children who are white and their families and those of color. Some of the more telling are set out here [page numbers in brackets]:
NO SAVINGS OR INVESTMENTS
IMPACT ON CHILD DEVELOPMENT
[These disparity indicators above were all measured before the Great Recession and recent studies indicate that families of color have suffered more acutely than white families in the years since.]
When a family is without wealth, an economic catastrophe as personal as a job loss or as global as the Great Recession of 2008 can easily become an economic catastrophe that spells hopelessness for the children of the family. Families with accumulated assets (bank accounts, stocks, savings, home ownership, and wealthy extended families) often have the time and resources to weather these same shocks.
As far back as 1986, the U.S. bishops decried the degree of economic inequality in this nation. The disparity in net wealth was even worse than that of income. And, since then, U.S. economic and political policies have only worsened the situation. Catholic social teaching, they noted, “does not require absolute equality in the distribution of income and wealth.” However, they did conclude that inequality should be evaluated in terms of two basic principles: (1) the priority of meeting the basic needs of the poor; and (2) the importance of increasing the level of participation by all members of society in the nation’s economic life. These norms “establish a strong presumption against extreme inequality of income and wealth as long as there are poor, hungry, and homeless people in our midst.”
The situation of inequality in the United States has become worse in the past twenty-five years, especially, as the center’s study indicates, for families and children of color. Such inequality, the bishops stated in 1986, is detrimental to the development of social solidarity and community. Even more than ever before, their conclusion now rings so very true: “In view of these norms we find the disparities of income and wealth in the United States to be unacceptable. Justice requires that all members of our society work for economic, political, and social reforms that will decrease these inequities.”
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