Category : Personal Finance

Andrew Wilson–Inequality, Privilege, and the Upper Middle Class

Inequality is one of the most entrenched, persistent and socially divisive problems in the modern West. Yet most of us misdiagnose the problem. We imagine that the issue lies with those much better off than us—the 1%, the super-rich, or whatever we call them—rather than with people like us. (More than a third of the Occupy demonstrators in 2011 had annual earnings of over $100k.) Richard Reeves sees things differently. In his Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That is a Problem, and What To Do About It, he argues that the top 20%, rather than the top 1%, is the real problem, and he admits that this puts both him and the vast majority of his readers in the firing line. “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Books, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Personal Finance, Theology

(Atlantic) Low-Income Communities Are Struggling to Support Churches

If there is ever a competition for the title of Busiest Minister in America, the smart money will be on Yoan Mora, senior pastor of Primera Iglesia Cristiana, a small but vibrant Spanish-speaking congregation in San Antonio, Texas. The weeks are nuts: worship services, classes, and meetings on Sundays; a radio program on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; prayer service and Bible study on Tuesdays; house church meetings in the southern reaches of the city each Thursday; a job-training program hosted at the church on Saturdays, plus other meetings scattered through the weekend.

Those are just his top-level duties. He still has to find time to write sermons, oversee church-building maintenance, teach small groups, manage budgets, and, most of all, be with people in all the ways pastors need to be with people: births, deaths, sicknesses, celebrations, life events big, medium, and small. Being a pastor is a full-time job, and then some.

But being a pastor is not Mora’s full-time job. Most of Mora’s weekday hours are devoted to his work as an accountant at a health-care clinic in the northeast part of town. He’s also trying to finish a master’s degree in theology.

Mora believes he was placed on this earth to pastor, so that’s what he plans on doing. But for now, he can’t make a living as a pastor because the congregation he serves is in an extremely low-income neighborhood. Pastor salaries are drawn from church budgets, which are drawn from the household budgets of congregants. So in a low-income area, even when a church grows, its budget does not expand so much as stretch. Primera Iglesia Cristiana can’t pay Mora much for all his efforts, so for the foreseeable future, he’ll hustle.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ministry of the Laity, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Personal Finance, Religion & Culture, Stewardship, Urban/City Life and Issues

(NYT Op-ed) Ann Patchett–My Year of No Shopping

The trick of no shopping isn’t just that you don’t buy things. You don’t shop. That means no trawling the sale section of the J. Crew website in idle moments. It means the catalogs go into the recycle bin unopened on the theory that if I don’t see it, I don’t want it. Halfway through the year I could go to a store with my mother and sister if they asked me. I could tell them if the dress they were trying on looked good without wishing I could try it on myself.

Not shopping saves an astonishing amount of time. In October, I interviewed Tom Hanks about his collection of short stories in front of 1,700 people in a Washington theater. Previously, I would have believed that such an occasion demanded a new dress and lost two days of my life looking for one. In fact, Tom Hanks had never seen any of my dresses, nor had the people in the audience. I went to my closet, picked out something weather appropriate and stuck it in my suitcase. Done.

I did a favor for a friend over the summer and she bought me a pair of tennis shoes. Her simple act of kindness thrilled me. Once I stopped looking for things to buy, I became tremendously grateful for the things I received. Had I been shopping this summer I would have told my friend, “You shouldn’t have,” and I would have meant it.

It doesn’t take so long for a craving to subside, be it for Winstons or gin or cupcakes. Once I got the hang of giving shopping up, it wasn’t much of a trick.

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Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Personal Finance, Stewardship

(Guardian) Why are America’s farmers killing themselves in record numbers? The suicide rate for farmers is more than double that of veterans

Since 2013, net farm income for US farmers has declined 50%. Median farm income for 2017 is projected to be negative $1,325. And without parity in place (essentially a minimum price floor for farm products), most commodity prices remain below the cost of production.

In an email, Rosmann wrote, “The rate of self-imposed [farmer] death rises and falls in accordance with their economic well-being … Suicide is currently rising because of our current farm recession.”

Inside the sunny lobby of the newly remodeled Onaga community hospital, where Joyce Blaske happens to work in the business department, Dr Nancy Zidek has just finished her rounds. As a family medicine doctor, she sees behavioral health issues frequently among her farmer patients, which she attributes to the stressors inherent in farming.

“If your farm is struggling, you’re certainly going to be depressed and going to be worried about how to put food on the table, how to get your kids to college,” she says.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Pastoral Theology, Personal Finance, Suicide

Christina Capecchi–The art of giving, the challenge of Advent

And so goes the drumbeat of commercialism: more, more, more.

All the while we Christians are called to answer Advent’s hushed invitation for less, less, less. To clear out our closets and turn off our phones, to resist the click-and-procure in favor of the wait-and-wonder. What a challenge it is to make space for the other, for the divine. Filling sets off all our bells and whistles; emptying requires discernment and allows for quiet.

Americans prefer the former. We have so much self-storage space, the Self Storage Association once pointed out, it is physically possible that every American could stand at the same time under the canopy of self-storage roofing.

I’ve been reflecting on the art of gift giving — what it can do for us, at its best, and what it neglects to do at its hastiest. The more you put in, the more you get out.

My neighbor recently showed me her favorite Christmas picture book, Holly Hobbie’s 2007 charmer “Toot & Puddle: Let It Snow,” in which a pair of best friends — who happen to be pigs — struggle to determine the perfect gifts for each other. Puddle labors in his attic, painting an image of the twosome in the woods. Toot, meanwhile, spends “every spare minute in his workshop in the basement” building a sled on wheels — one that will work with or without snow.

“He knew that the best present was usually something you made yourself, a one-of-a-kind thingamajig, not just a whatsit anyone could buy in a store,” Hobbie writes.

Indeed, the sweetest gifts require a commodity more precious than treasure: time.

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Posted in Advent, Consumer/consumer spending, Personal Finance, Stewardship

(WSJ) What 500 Years of Protestantism Teaches Us About Capitalism’s Future

Five centuries ago this week, Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation by hammering his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany.

His legacy raises questions that resonate for investors today: Can Communist China become a rich country? And does the political swing towards populism threaten economic growth?

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Posted in Anthropology, Church History, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Personal Finance

(America) Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry–Are Christians really supposed to be communists? A response to David Bentley Hart

Here’s the rub: The fact that I can know that God does not want me to give up all worldly goods because I support a child is precisely why I cannot rest easy. The fact that my vocation is perfectly acceptable to God is why Jesus’ thunderous words still apply to me. Jesus’ dramatic, hyperbolic words are a reminder that even while maintaining my vocation as a petit bourgeois, I can always be more radical in how I love and how I give to my fellow man. “Fearful it is to fall in the hands of the living God,” Kierkegaard reminds us in the same passage I quoted above. And how reassuring it would be for petit bourgeois Christians like myself to tell ourselves that the way Jesus preaches is for the others, for those who go into the desert.

To put it simply: poverty sine glosa is not the only way for the Christian. But that reminder should always be followed up by the always urgent reminder that we could still do with a lot less glosa and a lot more poverty.

Jesus’ hyperbole is there to remind us that we can always do more. “Let the dead bury their dead,” Christ commands us! We cannot take that to mean that all Christians everywhere should fail to pay respect to deceased loved ones. But neither can we—and this attitude is much more common, much more destructive—simply wave a magic wand of “Well, that’s hyperbole” and turn this fiery admonition into some bland platitude about detachment from worldliness. How much of my attachment to my family is a genuine expression of Christian charity, and how much is rote habit, social pressure, mere convenience that draws me away from Christ? The hyperbole is too strong for me to rest easy. How many “good Catholic” parents bemoan the decline in priests until Junior announces that he is going to the seminary and they won’t have grandchildren? Let the dead bury their dead.

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Posted in Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Personal Finance, Stewardship, Theology: Scripture

(NYT Op-ed) David Bentley Hart–Are Christians Supposed to Be Communists?

After all, the New Testament’s condemnations of personal wealth are fairly unremitting and remarkably stark: Matthew 6:19-20, for instance (“Do not store up treasures for yourself on the earth”), or Luke 6:24-25 (“But alas for you who are rich, for you have your comfort”) or James 5:1-6 (“Come now, you who are rich, weep, howling out at the miseries that are coming for you”). While there are always clergy members and theologians swift to assure us that the New Testament condemns not wealth but its abuse, not a single verse (unless subjected to absurdly forced readings) confirms the claim.

I came to the conclusion that koinonia often refers to a precise set of practices within the early Christian communities, a special social arrangement — the very one described in Acts — that was integral to the new life in Christ. When, for instance, the Letter to the Hebrews instructs believers not to neglect koinonia, or the First Letter to Timothy exhorts them to become koinonikoi, this is no mere recommendation of personal generosity, but an invocation of a very specific form of communal life.

As best we can tell, local churches in the Roman world of the apostolic age were essentially small communes, self-sustaining but also able to share resources with one another when need dictated. This delicate web of communes constituted a kind of counter-empire within the empire, one founded upon charity rather than force — or, better, a kingdom not of this world but present within the world nonetheless, encompassing a radically different understanding of society and property.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Ethics / Moral Theology, Personal Finance, Stewardship, Theology: Scripture

Cut stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals to £2, Bishop Smith of St Albans urges Government

The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has responded to the Government’s announcement today of The Triennial Review of Stakes and Prizes.

He said: “The Triennial Review of Stakes and Prizes has proposed a range of possible stakes for fixed-odds betting terminals. While a reduction in stakes is welcome, any stake higher than £2 does not go far enough to address the harm these machines cause to families and communities around the UK.

“In our broader response to the consultation, the Church of England will urge the Government to consider the experiences of those affected most by these machines, and to choose to lower the stake to £2.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Gambling, Personal Finance, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

A Picture is Worth 1000 words–The baby Boombers are Reaching Retirement

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Aging / the Elderly, America/U.S.A., Budget, Children, Economy, Health & Medicine, History, Marriage & Family, Medicaid, Medicare, Pensions, Personal Finance, Politics in General, Social Security, Taxes, Young Adults

(NYT Upshot) Whites Have Huge Wealth Edge Over Blacks (but Don’t Know It)

“I’m a person who studies inequality, who should really know how inequality looks,” said one of the psychologists, Michael Kraus, who researches the behaviors and beliefs that help perpetuate inequality. “And I look at the black-white gap, and I’m shocked at the magnitude.”

Black families in America earn just $57.30 for every $100 in income earned by white families, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. For every $100 in white family wealth, black families hold just $5.04.

If Mr. [Michael] Kraus, of all people, is taken aback by these numbers, what are the odds that most Americans have a good understanding of them? The answer, he and his colleagues fear, has broad implications for how we understand our society and what we’re willing to do to make it fairer.

Americans, and higher-income whites in particular, vastly overestimate progress toward economic equality between blacks and whites, the psychologists reported Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Americans believe that blacks and whites are more equal today than they truly are on measures of income, wealth, wages and health benefits. And they believe more historical progress has occurred than is the case, suggesting “a profound misperception of and unfounded optimism” regarding racial equality.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Personal Finance, Politics in General, Race/Race Relations, Theology

(PA) Britons skipping birthdays over lack of money, Christian charity finds

The Church of England’s social action charity has revealed that one in nine British adults missed out on celebrating a birthday or other special occasion last year because of a lack of money.

The Church Urban Fund said more must be done to help hard-pressed Britons as figures from its food survey suggest almost a million adults used a food bank last year.

The charity’s executive director Paul Hackwood said the results paint a “deeply troubling picture of food insecurity throughout Britain”.

He described the effects of such poverty as wide-reaching, adding: “Those affected don’t just go hungry or poorly nourished – they suffer isolation, are excluded from participating in social activities and experience considerable anxiety.”

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Posted in Charities/Non-Profit Organizations, Economy, England / UK, Personal Finance, Sociology

(Church Times) Class divide at church must be addressed, new study suggests

The Church in the UK is dominated by the middle class, who must eschew superior attitudes and empower working-class culture if the dearth of working-class people in their congregations is to be reversed.

This is the message of A Church for the Poor (David C. Cook), a new book whose authors, Martin Charlesworth and Natalie Williams, straddle the class divide.

“If the poor or working-class are uncomfortable in our churches, we don’t need to convert them to our middle-class ways,” the authors write. “We need to move out of our comfort zones and accept them as they are.”

With a warning against “an attitude of superiority”, they cite sermons that disparage Sun readers, and social-media postings by Christians who argued for an IQ test before people could vote in the EU referendum. Churches must “consciously empower the sub-culture of the incoming group”, they argue.

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Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Parish Ministry, Personal Finance, Religion & Culture

(Pacific Standard) Why Poverty is Skyrocketing in the Suburbs

If you were to ask a group of Americans to pinpoint poverty in this country, a good many would tell you you to turn a watchful eye to the inner-city blocks. Perhaps others would suggest you look at the isolated valleys of rural Appalachian coal mining towns. But few would point you to the suburbs, our country’s neatly manicured, leafy green mazes of driveways and cul-de-sacs. That’s a shame; it’s this very misperception that makes the issue so pernicious.

In recent decades, the number of suburbanites living in poverty has increased at an alarming clip. In 1990, there were 9.5 million poor people living in America’s 100 largest cities, and 8.6 million poor people living in the suburbs of those cities. By 2014, there were 17 million poor people in the suburbs of the country’s 100 largest metro areas, and less than 13 million in the cities themselves. The average suburban poverty rate, meanwhile increased from 8.3 percent in 1990 to 12.2 percent in 2014.

Poverty, in other words, is now a suburban problem, just as much as it’s an urban or rural problem. In his new book, Places in Need: The Changing Geography of Poverty, Scott Allard, a poverty researcher and professor at the University of Washington, explores this phenomenon and its many implications. Allard spoke to Pacific Standard about what’s driving suburban poverty rates, how the mismatch between perception and reality may affect support for safety net programs, and what the changing distribution of poverty means for the social safety net.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Economy, History, Personal Finance, Poverty, Uncategorized

(NPR) Can’t Pay Your Student Loans? The Government May Come After Your House

On Adriene McNally’s 49th birthday in January, she heard a knock on the door of her modest row-home in Northeast Philadelphia.

She was being served.

“They actually paid someone to come out and serve me papers on a Saturday afternoon,” she says.

The papers were from a government lawsuit that represents something more than just an unwelcome birthday gift — it’s an example of a program the federal government has brought to 19 cities around the country including Brooklyn, Detroit, Miami and Philadelphia: suing to recover unpaid student loans, like the ones McNally owes.

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Posted in Economy, Education, Personal Finance, The U.S. Government, Young Adults