Faithful Citizenship: Poverty and economic justice

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series prepared by the Wisconsin Catholic Conference as a guide for those who wish to inform their consciences in order to participate more fully in the political process. To learn more about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, visit faithfulcitizenship.org and wisconsincatholic.org.


What is a just economy?
The church calls on us to use all our spiritual, moral and intellectual energies to create a new order — “a society of free work, of enterprise and of participation. Such a society is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the state, so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied” (St. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 35).
“Economic decisions and institutions should be assessed according to whether they protect or undermine the dignity of the human person. Social and economic policies should foster the creation of jobs for all who can work with decent working conditions and just wages.

Barriers to equal pay and employment for women and those facing unjust discrimination must be overcome. Catholic social teaching supports the right of workers to choose whether to organize, join a union and bargain collectively, and to exercise these rights without reprisal. It also affirms economic freedom, initiative and the right to private property” (FCFC, 73).

Why is there a growing gap between the rich and the poor?
As Pope Francis has written, “This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. … Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions” (Evangelii Gaudium, 56).

What can we do about poverty?
Jesus told us that the poor will always be with us. But this does not absolve us from our responsibility to help liberate those living in poverty. “Welfare policy should reduce poverty and dependency, strengthen family life and help families leave poverty through work, training and assistance with child care, health care, housing and transportation. Given the link between family stability and economic success, welfare policy should address both the economic and cultural factors that contribute to family breakdown. It should also provide a safety net for those who cannot work. Improving the Earned Income Tax Credit and child tax credits, available as refunds to families in greatest need, will help lift low-income families out of poverty” (FCFC, 75).

What are the effects of consumerism?
As Pope Francis has written, “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading. … To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed.
“Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us” (Evangelii Gaudium, 53-54).