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The prosperity of a country should benefit all, not only a few at the top. Pope Francis and President Obama both believe that income inequality is a major problem, and that everyone deserves the opportunity for a decent life, not only the wealthy. But right now, it seems that the rich have more than their fair share. In fact, in a speech given by the President this past December, he stated that the top 10% of Americans take 51% of the nation’s income, while only 3% went to the neediest 20% of the population.
The President declared income inequality to be “the defining challenge of our time” and said he would devote the rest of his presidency to reducing this unfairness. Pope Francis has also decried the growing chasm between the rich and everyone else, and made the trenchant observation that “trickle-down” economics, a theory in which wealth created at the top trickles to the bottom and makes everyone better off, does not, in fact, work that way. The poor wait and hope, but never feel the trickle.
(Trickle-down economics is often associated with the Republican Party, though the Pope did not mention this, as the concept began in earnest under President Reagan in the 1980’s. Pope Francis got quite a few Republicans upset with his remarks, some of whom even called him a Marxist and a socialist. The Pope replied that although he knows some Marxists who are good people, he in fact doesn’t adhere to the socialist doctrine).
Pope Francis used another colorful metaphor to describe the false expectations of trickle-down economics–“the promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger and nothing ever comes out for the poor.” How true the Pope’s words are! The Pope also stated that the effectiveness of the trickle-down system “has never been confirmed by the facts” and has created “a globalization of indifference.”
There are several things President Obama wants to do to reduce income inequality. One is to raise the federal minimum wage from its current $7.50 per hour to $10.10 an hour by the year 2016. Many studies show that raising the minimum wage helps immensely in getting people out of poverty. (As an aside, a number of rich corporations’ pay their workers such low wages that the workers need to use government programs, such as food stamps, in order to make ends meet. Raising the minimum wage would help put a stop to this highly questionable practice as well).
President Obama also points to The American Care Act aka ObamaCare as helping the poor and all Americans, as people now do not have to worry about being able to afford medical care. This is a huge advantage for everyone, including those who were previously uninsured or lived in fear of having their policies cancelled after an illness. In addition, insurance companies can no longer deny policies to those with pre-existing conditions, such as congenital heart defects and asthma, among others. As expected, the Republican Party opposes raising the minimum wage and also opposes ObamaCare. Also, as expected, many Republicans don’t even think income inequality exists, but as both President Obama and the Pope emphasize, income inequality is an insidious wrong that needs to be righted. The Pope says that the battle can be won by ensuring that all people, especially the poor, have access to “education, health care and above all, employment.” The Pope and President Obama have the same vision, a vision that benefits everyone.