Since September 2017, I’ve had the opportunity to intern for the Congregation of the Mission, Vincentian Family at the United Nations. My experiences thus far have given me an even greater understanding and appreciation for the field of advocacy that my organization focuses on.
On the 17th of October 2017, the United Nations (UN) commemorated the 30th anniversary since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed to honor victims of extreme poverty, violence and hunger. This anniversary event provided yet another opportunity for persons around the world to renew their commitment and solidarity to the poor. Despite the fact that the event focused primarily on extreme poverty that exits around the world, I couldn’t help but reflect on the varying levels of poverty that exists within neighboring communities, and more specifically, New York City.
While it may argue that poverty is not a crime, my own view on this issue is the inability to provide for one’s self and family is in itself a crime against humanity. According to The U.S. Census Bureau, New York population was estimated at 19,283,776 in 2016. Out of this population, 2,970,032 (15.4%) people had incomes below the poverty line. New York is ranked 34th amongst states in the U.S. when determining persons living below the poverty line. Dubbed ‘the most populous city in the United States and the world’ and described as the cultural and financial capital of the world, I find it difficult to come to terms with the reality that such high levels of poverty exist within this thriving locality of the United States of America.
Following the last ten (10) years of economic profitability, there has been a period whereby the current economic vitality of New York City is being tested by deeply rooted problems including pervasive poverty, inadequate job training and a shortage of skilled workers. Wall Street, considered the most economically powerful city and leading financial center of the world has had to retrench approximately nine thousand jobs.
It is noteworthy to mention that while the city’s unemployment rate is low at (5.3%) and most poor residents can find work, economists worry that they have too little education to find anything better than the lowest-level jobs, with little chance for advancement in the expanding service industry. The city’s poorest residents are suffering a ‘jobs mismatch’.
The poverty issues that New York City face goes beyond the false image that the world sees of a city that is only about the bright lights, glitz and glamor. Within this city, there are thousands of people who continue to suffer in the midst of having some of the richest people in the world living amongst them. This situation that the city faces violates a few themes that are highlighted within Catholic Social Teachings.
Catholic social teaching is a central and essential element of our faith. Its roots are in the Hebrew prophets who announced God’s special love for the poor and called God’s people to a covenant of love and justice. It is a teaching founded on the life and words of Jesus Christ, who came “to bring glad tidings to the poor . . . liberty to captives . . . recovery of sight to the blind” (Lk 4:18-19), and who identified himself with “the least of these,” the hungry and the stranger (cf. Mt 25:45). Catholic social teaching is built on a commitment to the poor. This commitment arises from our experiences of Christ in the Eucharist.
There are seven themes of Social Catholic Teachings namely; the life and dignity of the human person, Call to community and common good, Rights and responsibilities, Option for the poor and vulnerable, the dignity of work and the rights of workers, Solidarity and Care for God’s creation. I will reference three of these themes and give a perspective on the correlation between the substantive issue of poverty and the selected theme. In its analysis, this paper draws from the lessons of ‘Call to family, community and participation, Rights and responsibilities and Option for the poor and vulnerable.’
In considering ‘Call to community and common good,’ the human person is not only sacred but social. Poverty in NYC in many cases stems from economics and politics, in law and policy which directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in a community, as is seen through immigration laws. Marriage and the family are central social institutions that must be supported and strengthened, not undermined as this sometimes leaves families without their breadwinner.
The theme, ‘Rights and Responsibilities’, is violated when we see individuals not having the basic resources available to them to fulfill their rights and responsibilities, especially in an area where others have an abundance of these resources. This theme teaches us that every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency.
Thirdly, the theme ‘Option for the poor and vulnerable’ takes into consideration the coping mechanisms adopted by the less privileged members of that community, given the disparity between the rich and poor. There must be a focused and sustained effort to create opportunities for those individuals and by extension their families, as they, by way of their individual efforts, contribute to the development of the city.
While this segment of the population might have no other choice but to accept many of the more menial tasks that are available, quite often, they are marginalized by virtue of status. In my view, the reality is that their efforts are integral to the process of development and as such they aught be respected. Within the various industries, they play major roles in meeting the needs of the skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workforce. In an effort to address this situation, I believe that New York City should place greater focus and resources on programs that will identify and enhance skillsets where applicable, with the view to realizing more ambitious and productive individuals.
Toward this end, the introduction of an initiative enabling individuals to benefit from compulsory literacy workshops and other programs geared to addressing remedial reading and writing skills will go a long way affording persons to qualify themselves toward the attainment of sustainable jobs. Several other career fields, subsidized by Government, can also be made available to this target group. The ultimate goal being to reduce poverty by creating a more purposeful society. Certainly, these programs can be strategically planned with a short, medium and long term goal based on turnover and the program’s success rate. A major fallout that may arise from such an initiative could be the City having to deal with individuals migrating to other jurisdictions, deemed to be more lucrative. Alternatively, this may result in a further lack of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers.
Congregation of the Mission Intern
Senior Ozanam Scholar at St. John’s University,
Major- Business Management/Business Analytics
Minor- Social Justice/ International Studies