Week 6 of the 40 Days of Action: Systemic Poverty and Income Inequality

June 19, 2018


Mind the (Ever-Expanding) Gap

All over the world, the rich are getting richer and the poor are falling farther and farther behind. Nowhere is this economic inequality more extreme than in the United States, where the wealth of just three people matches that of the poorest 160 million Americans.

The effects of poverty on individuals and families can be devastating. On a global scale, the widening wealth gap has been linked to increasing societal unrest. No good can come, on any level, from a system where a privileged few own everything and the rest of us struggle to make do. 

Extreme Wealth on the Rise

Ever since the Poor People’s Campaign launched the 40 Days of Action on May 13, we’ve written about a lot of issues, everything from military spending and climate justice to gun violence and education. But there’s one thing at the heart of all of them: poverty. And that’s what we’re looking at here in week 6.

The abyss opening up between the poor and the rich is truly mind-bending. A Credit Suisse report released in 2017 found that the richest 1% own HALF of the world’s wealth. That’s up from 42.5% at the height of the 2008 financial crisis. And while millionaires and billionaires are on the rise, the world’s poorest 3.5 billion adults each owns assets of less than $10,000. To put it another way, 70% of the world’s working-age population can claim just just 2.7% of the world’s wealth.

And it’s only getting worse. Since 2008, the wealth of the world’s richest 1% has been increasing at 6% per year, compared to 3.5% for the other 99%. The richest 1% is now on track to own 67% of the world’s wealth by 2030.

According to a 2016 study, nearly 400 million children now live in extreme poverty worldwide. Poverty hits young children especially hard, as the lack of food, healthcare, education, and other necessities impacts their growth and development. Meanwhile, the world’s 2,043 billionaires made enough money in 2017 to end extreme poverty seven times over. We can’t allow this extreme imbalance to continue.

The Racial Wealth Gap

Here in America, the wealth gap is at an all-time high and is the worst in the developed world. That’s bad. But here’s something even worse: there’s a racial wealth gap as well. We can’t—and shouldn’t—talk about poverty without talking about racism.

The median wealth of white households was $171,000 in 2016. That was 10 times the wealth of black households ($17,100). TEN times. And the gap has grown since 2007. Poverty, while never easy on anyone, clearly does not affect all families equally. Poor black families, for example, are poorer on average than poor white families. To compound this injustice, poverty persists through generations of black families in a way that it does not in white families, making it difficult for black families to build and accumulate wealth and pass it on to their children, as so many white families can. The American Dream of economic (and upward) mobility is often largely out of reach for people of color.

But here’s something more astonishing: while a poor black child is twice as likely as a white child (43% vs. 20%) to be poor as an adult, black adults have a 41% of being poor regardless of whether they were poor as kids. In fact, racism is such a powerful force that affluent black families wind up living in poorer neighborhoods than whites of similar or even lower incomes.

Systemic poverty and inequality in communities of color infects American life at every level—from education, healthcare, and housing to employment, the criminal justice system, voting, and beyond. We have never needed the Poor People’s Campaign more than we do right now. Poverty is political. And we need to get mobilized to make change happen.

What You Can Do

The 40 Days of Action may be coming to an end, but our movement is just getting started. The more of us who talk about this, who educate each other, who pressure our politicians and take to the streets, the sooner change will come. Join the Poor People’s campaign and you’ll receive updates about what’s going on all over the country as the movement grows.

Join The Movement!

Find an Event Near You

If you’re not able to get to any of the marches, protests, teaching sessions, or events during this last week, you can still be involved. The following events will be live streamed from Washington, DC, via the Poor People’s Campaign Facebook page:

  • Tuesday: Truthful Tuesday Teach-In, 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm EST
  • Thursday: Thursday Justice Jam Night, 7:30 pm to 8:30 pm EST

Why not invite some people over and watch it together? Start a conversation. Get to know each other. Share some food and share some ideas. The connections we make matter. We need each other. We’re all in this together, and we’re building a movement meant to last.​