When I read recently that Boston had the highest income inequality among the 100 largest US cities, I wanted to cry. I was so angry at the politicians and business leaders whose decisions made this happen. That the city we love should have such a title is difficult to accept.
Here I offer a mea culpa: How can I feel I have helped accomplish much in my 45 years as a community organizer if live in the most unequal city in the country?
The situation today is an across-the-board challenge to leaders in government, business, health care, universities, media, non-profits, unions, and religious congregations – and to each of us. If we truly believe that everyone who works hard should get decent pay and that all young people should get a good, affordable education, why aren’t institutions making good on these goals?
Income inequality does not just mean the top 1 percent are making way too much money. It also means that our overall economy is depriving the poor and the shrinking middle class of opportunities and basic security. Pope Francis calls it “the economy of exclusion.”
What could change this story? When there’s a big construction project, the developers are required to file extensive statements on its impact in immediate areas. What if we required government, business, and non-profit sectors to start publicly filing regular statements on how their actions are having an impact on income inequality? The filings would say what had been done to give people opportunities for a living wage and good and affordable education, to lower the crime rate and widespread incarceration, and to help immigrants.
Of course, such reports could skirt what they weren’t doing, but could do. That’s the time for community organizations, unions, and religious-based groups to lay out for them where they need to improve so that their reports could be better.
The media must step up, too. News stories about who is being negatively affected by the economy should also report on suggested solutions and on what or who is standing in the way of efforts to implement them.
Religious congregations make countless efforts at service and charity as do many social service agencies. But only a few congregations are organizing their members to step outside the church, synagogue, or mosque and march to hold politicians and business leaders accountable for moving with urgency to change our standing as the city with the most income inequality.
As I hope, pray, and ask the powerful to do something more, I know that what they do or don’t do depends mostly on whether the poor, the working, and the middle class rise up and demand action. And each of us individually should perform works of charity and get involved in efforts to change the laws so that there is more justice in our community.
In 1630, one of Boston’s founders, John Winthrop, preached that “We must always consider...that we shall be a city upon a hill – the eyes of all people are upon us.” But to be a truly great city in 2016, Boston cannot also lead the nation in income inequality. Let’s all take the extra actions that will change this for the better.
Lew Finfer is a Dorchester resident and director of the Dorchester- based Massachusetts Communities Action Network.