Economic Justice Is Part of All That United Methodist Women Does

Economic Justice Is Part of All That United Methodist Women Does
A member of United Methodist Women holds a sign during a May 17, 2018, public witness during the 2018 Assembly.

United Methodist Women will focus on two campaigns, Just Energy for All and Interrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline in the 2021-2024 Quadrennium. We are winding down our five-year focus on Economic Inequality and the Living Wage Campaign, grateful for the work that hundreds of United Methodist Women members have done in this area.

United Methodist Women has a 150-year history of addressing economic issues impacting women, children and youth through both service and advocacy. The Timeline: Economic Justice Mission Legacy (PDF) chronicles some of that history. We will continue this work because the economic well-being of women, children and youth connects with all aspects of their lives. 

Making the Connections 

Race, gender, class and national origin are closely tied in terms of women’s opportunities, decision-making power and economic stability.  In the United States, women still earn only 81 cents for every dollar earned by men on average, and Black, Latina and American Indian women earn only 75 cents for every dollar earned by white men. Economic status is linked to race and gender. United Methodist Women’s Living Wage Campaign has focused on those low-wage workers left out of many labor protections — tipped workers, farm workers, domestic workers, home health workers — the majority women of color, most of them immigrant women. Their low wages impact their housing, transportation, access to quality health care and education, and their ability to save for crises and retirement. Where they live impacts their encounters with police and with toxic environments as well. 

Below are two examples of how race, climate, mass incarceration and economic status intersect. Consider: 

  • If you have been concerned about conditions for farm workers, you will want to engage in the Just Energy 4 All Campaign to reduce carbon emissions that cause heat stress for farmers. 
  • If you have been concerned about equitable access to quality housing, health and education as part of the Economic Inequality initiative, you will want to engage in the End Mass Incarceration initiative, which explores how poverty and race become the means to criminalize people unjustly. 

Climate Justice, Racial and Economic Justice

Red-lined Black and Latino neighborhoods experience greater heat in a warming climate than white neighborhoods, intensifying inequality. Historically, government agencies and banks practiced “red-lining,” refusing loans to people seen as a “financial risk.” This practice became a self-fulfilling prophecy as white families fled neighborhoods with declining property values, there was disinvestment in parks, schools and other amenities, and formerly vibrant neighborhoods became segregated and were deemed “ghettos.”

In more than 100 cities, “formerly redlined neighborhoods are today 5 degrees hotter in summer, on average, than areas once favored for housing loans, with some cities seeing differences as large as 12 degrees.” Disinvestment over decades has left these neighborhoods with fewer trees and parks to help cool the air, while more highways and parking lots intensify heat. Systemic racism that produced these impoverished and hot neighborhoods also created the conditions for high rates of asthma, diabetes and blood pressure, which are worsened by the heat. Inequality in housing, incomes, health and education “all make a difference when we’re talking about vulnerability to climate change,” said Rob Jones, executive director of Groundwork in Richmond, Va. 

Race, Criminalization and Poverty

Angela-Renee Coakley was handcuffed, finger-printed and locked in a cell on Staten Island for failing to pay a traffic ticket. “It was all surreal and ridiculous — for a fine,” said Ms. Coakley. An African American event planner from Brooklyn, N.Y., she was doing errands when stopped by a police officer who cited her hands-free headset. A search of her license turned up an unpaid fine. Ms. Coakley said she had recently moved and had never received a notification that her license was suspended due to an unpaid traffic ticket. In New York, the state can suspend a license due to an unpaid ticket and can arrest the driver. Given that Black and Latino drivers are more likely to be stopped by the police, they are also more likely targets of arrests due to outstanding fines. Ms. Coakley was able to pay the fine, take a mandated course and reduce a criminal record to a traffic violation. This is not the case for those who cannot afford to pay the mounting fees. A cycle of unpaid tickets and driver’s license suspensions can be financially devastating for families.  When poor people cannot pay the fees, they may have their license suspended, have bad credit reports or go to jail, emerging with a criminal record. The irony is that they are less able to pay mounting debt from inside of a jail cell. 

A 2017 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that municipalities increasingly rely on fines and fees for revenue and that this disproportionately targets people of color and poor communities. Fees for “juvenile behaviors like truancy and curfew violations” are assessed against parents and guardians. A large number of these fines are traffic citations. The report notes that when the police are relied upon to generate revenue for the town rather than promoting public safety, there is an incentive for them to issue as many citations as possible. This combines with police tactics to enforce low-level infractions, such as “broken windows” and “stop-and-frisk.” Many municipalities have turned to fines as a source of revenue when they could not raise taxes — potentially a more equitable way of financing local government.

You can also continue to work on Living Wage issues you have been involved in:

Posted or updated: 12/18/2020 12:00:00 AM
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