Moral Low Ground

US Government

Obama Cites Pope Francis in Speech Denouncing Economic Inequality

Delivering a rousing speech attacking economic inequality on Wednesday, President Barack Obama cited Pope Francis, who in his short tenure has made a name for himself in progressive circles by championing the plight of the poor.

Speaking at a Washington, DC event for the Center for American Progress, a progressive think-tank, Obama cited Pope Francis’ denunciation of the so-called ‘trickle down’ economic theory favored by many conservatives.

“Some of you may have seen just last week the Pope himself speak about this at eloquent length,” Obama said. “How can it be, he wrote, that it’s not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it’s news when the stock market loses two points?”

“This increasing inequality is most pronounced in our country,” Obama continued. “And it challenges the very essence of who we are as a people.”

The president went on to call growing economic inequality in the United States a “defining challenge of our time.”

“Alongside increased inequality, we’ve seen diminished levels of upward mobility in recent years,” Obama continued. “A child born in the top 20 percent has about a two in three chance of staying at or near the top. A child born in the bottom 20 percent has a less than one in 20 shot at making it to the top. He’s 10 times likelier to stay where he is.”

“The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American Dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe,” the president added.

Indeed, in the past 30 years, the top one percent’s share of America’s wealth has soared 275 percent, while the bottom 20 percent’s share grew by just 18 percent. If the nation’s wealth is represented by a pie, the top 1 percent’s slice has more than doubled since 1979, while the bottom 20 percent’s piece has actually shrunk by a quarter.

The wealthiest one percent of US households now possess more than a third of the nation’s wealth, while the bottom 50 percent hold just one percent of the wealth, according to a 2012 Congressional Research Service report.

As a result, the United States now ranks 73rd in global income equality, tied with Ghana and Turkmenistan. And things are getting worse– since the end of the Great Recession, 95 percent of all income gains went to the top one percent.

In his speech, President Obama called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from its current rate of $7.25, one of the lowest wages in the developed world. In Canada, minimum wages are set by province and range from $9.75-$11. In Britain, it is $9.83/hour. In Ireland, it’s $11.09. In New Zealand, the minimum wage is $11.18/hour. And in Australia, it’s $16.

Adjusted for inflation, the US federal minimum wage is nearly 25 percent lower than it was in 1968, when it was $10.50/hour in today’s dollars.

In addition to calling for a $10.10 minimum wage, Obama said that that amount should increase each year to keep pace with inflation. Many nations, and even San Francisco, California (2014 minimum wage= $10.74), have tied their minimum wages to inflation.

*****

Last week, Pope Francis attacked ‘trickle-down’ economics, popularized in the United States by Republican President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s:

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

The Pope’s criticism of unfettered capitalism and consumerism drew the ire of many conservatives.

Popular talk radio host Rush Limbaugh called the Pope’s words “sad.”

“The Pope has written… about the utter evils of capitalism,” Limbaugh said on his show. “This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the Pope.”

Jonathan Moseley of the Northern Virginia Tea Party wrote in a World Net Daily post titled “Jesus Christ Is a Capitalist” that Jesus is “weeping in heaven hearing Christians espouse a socialist philosophy that has created suffering and poverty around the world.”

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