Strides: Update 6, Economic Justice & Opportunity, pt 1/2

Saving is a waiting game, but I can still be active in budgeting, learning and looking ahead.

Welcome back! As I dive into this post on Economic Justice and Opportunity in particular, I want to remind folks that I do not have a professional background in economics or economic theory. The research and writing I share with you here I do in my spare time. If/When information in these posts interests you, please visit the links provided to investigate further. If the ideas I propose as solutions interest you, please join me in researching opportunities for their realization, thinking through road blocks and obstacles, coming up with innovative solutions, and engaging your social networks and government representatives on all of the above. The status quo of our society is not acceptable in any of the following areas:

In this post and the next, I address Economic Justice and Opportunity as a motivation for this project.

Defining Economic Justice

I spent the better part of preparing this post trying to pin down a clear, accessible definition of economic justice. I sought a definition that would leave laypeople of economics, like myself, more surefooted in our understanding of the term. From that firm foundation, I would build out the rest of this article. Across several different websites, I found variations of the following definition:

“Economic justice… is a set of moral and ethical principles for building economic institutions, where the ultimate goal is to create an opportunity for each person to establish a sufficient material foundation upon which to have a dignified, productive, and creative life.” Adam Hayes, “Economic Justice”, Investopedia

But what exactly are the “moral and ethical principles” of which economic justice is composed? So long as these moral and ethical principles are unidentified, how can I walk away with a solid understanding of economic justice? A couple sites conceded that defining economic justice can become abstract and difficult to explain compactly. In an article by Louise Simmons of the University of Connecticut titled “Economic Justices”, Simmons quoted economist Robin Hahnel who expressed as much:

“Although political economists are passionate about economic justice, most of us have a difficult time saying clearly exactly what it is. Instead, most radical economists find themselves in the position in which the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart found himself when required to make a ruling on pornography. In his immortal words, ‘I shall not today attempt further to define pornography, but I know it when I see it.’ Few radical economists can define economic justice, but almost all believe they know economic injustice when they see it”.

Great! I was not alone in my difficulty locating a demystified definition of economic justice. Nor was I alone in struggling to patch together my own description from my reading. Thankfully, where references to moral and ethical principles remained unspecified by these sources, the goals and aims of economic justice were clearly named. For example:

  • “The ultimate purpose of economic justice is to free each person to engage creatively in the unlimited work beyond economics, that of the mind and spirit.” Center for Economic and Social Justice
  • “…the ultimate goal is to create an environment with equal opportunity for each individual and to establish a material foundation of which people can achieve a creative, dignified, and productive life.”Corporate Finance Institute
  • “An economic justice argument focuses on the need to ensure that everyone has access to the material resources that create opportunities, in order to live a life unencumbered by pressing economic concerns.” Sandro Galea, MD, DrPH, Boston University School of Public Health

For the remainder of this post, I will primarily refer to the goals of economic justice and invite you to meditate on the breadth of the impact of economic injustice on both urban and rural economically marginalized communities. Then, I will spotlight a specific area of economic injustice that I believe ought to be addressed above all others because of:

  1. Its vital role in either amplifying or alleviating nearly all other areas of economic injustice in our society over the both the short- and long-term AND
  2. Its comparable impacts on economic opportunity regardless of geography or culture, on both urban and rural mid-low income communities.

Finally, I will close with a brief preview for the next post, Economic Justice and Opportunity part 2/2, along with a short update on a couple topics from Update 5.

The Cost of Economic Injustice

Louise Simmons’ article, “Economic Justice” opens addressing the relevance of economic justice to effective social work. In doing so, Simmons spells out how consequences of economic injustice manifest themselves in the communities that social workers serve:

“Lack of economic justice and economic security contributes to personal and social stress that may be expressed in the micro-arena through domestic violence, substance abuse, and family stress. In addition, in the mezzo- and macro-arenas, the lack of work and income destabilizes communities, leading to tax base erosion and curtailing of public services, as well as higher rates of crime and abandonment.”

There are several additional expressions of personal and social stress that can occur, stemming from the handful of examples Simmons cites above. The following came to my mind:

  • Domestic violence > Trauma > Generational Trauma > Potential involvement of child services (trauma)
  • Substance abuse > Chemical dependency > Decline in mental and/or physical health > Family stress > Potential involvement of child services (trauma)
  • Destabilized communities > Continued economic stagnation or decline > Joblessness > Cyclic or multi-generational poverty
  • Tax base erosion + curtailing of public services > Reduced funding for education including educational facilities, materials, programming, and compensation for teachers, administrators and staff
  • Tax base erosion + curtailing of public services > Reduced funding for maintenance or improvement of local infrastructure, disrepair
  • Crime and abandonment > Absent parents due to incarceration > Abandonment and local economic decline

Reflecting on the ways in which economic insecurity can impact individuals and communities, the psychological theory of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs came to mind as well. The stresses Simmons mentions can result from lack of resources, lack of reliable resources, or both: Does a household have the resources to satisfy the first level of Maslow’s hierarchy, their physiological needs? Then, is access to those resources reliable and secure? In other words, are economic safety needs met–level two of the hierarchy? Is a household able to sustain and maintain the physiological needs met at level one?

The consequences of economic injustice and insecurity are not limited to the city, and they are not limited to the country. They also exist in the suburbs. They are not bound by geography. Are the paths out of economic marginalization equally accessible for all? No. One can be marginalized from intersectional oppression! For now however, I am focusing on how the impact of economic injustice and insecurity–the outcomes of “personal and social stress” and “lack of work and income” on individual and community wellbeing–is indiscriminate.

Economic Injustice in Rural and Urban America | Finding Common Ground

Are there economic justice topics around which marginalized urban and rural communities can unite to politically organize for BOTH their interest AND that of their geographic or cultural Other?

After three years on this journey, I have learned a lot more about the economic plight of rural America. Thanks to this enlightenment, I am less ignorant about rural economic grievances. I am not fully enlightened and all-knowing; instead, as a non-rural person, I am humbled to ask more questions and strengthened to acknowledge the complexity and extent of suffering in rural life. It is a spiritual and heart challenge to be empathetic independent of how–in our vitriolic, polarized environment–someone may view my demographic groups as inferior or minimize our adversity or value. I try to remember that acknowledging others’ suffering neither de-legitimizes, nor diminishes the significance or urgency to address the suffering of my own or other populations. Acknowledgement of rural American economic adversity need not be an either/or with acknowledgement of urban American economic adversity. In fact, perhaps the poor and economically marginalized across geographic and cultural backgrounds can be each other’s best allies to transform systems and re-direct Washington’s priorities.

Recently, I’ve been encouraged and inspired by what of I’ve learned of the life of Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton, the “Black Messiah” of the critically acclaimed 2021 biographical drama, “Judas and the Black Messiah“, about his life up to his assassination. With some additional googling, I learned about how Hampton founded the first multicultural Rainbow Coalition in Chicago in 1969. The site for the *free* PBS documentary, “The First Rainbow Coalition“, describes how Hampton “[formed] alliances across lines of race and ethnicity with other community-based movements in [Chicago, Illinois], including the Latino group the Young Lords Organization and the working-class young southern whites of the Young Patriots.” The documentary is just under one hour and brought me to tears viewing footage of these groups’ unity for political action in the segregated Chicago of the 1960s; leadership of the different organizations remained friends for life. At one point in the film, in an excerpt of Fred Hampton speaking he proclaims, “We’re gonna fight racism, not with racism, but we’re gonna fight it with solidarity.”

In a February 2021 NBC News article responding to “Judas and the Black Messiah”, Puerto Rican activist and co-founder of the New York branch of the Young Lords, Felipe Luciano, remembers how and why Fred Hampton developed the Rainbow Coalition:

“Luciano… said Hampton was able to find common ground with other groups because he understood their oppression.
‘He was able to go into an Appalachian meeting place and tell them, “I think we need your help and you need ours,”‘ Luciano said.”

In the next section, I will address one area of economic marginalization shared by both rural and urban populations: digital inclusion/exclusion. Out of the spirit of better understanding others’ oppression and finding common ground to effect change, let’s go!

Economic Marginalization & Internet Access

The topic of digital exclusion and its impact on economic opportunity in rural America came to my attention during this project because I figured that I’d need employment once I moved to Vermont. It seemed that it could be financially better for me to move to Vermont as a remote worker than to try my luck at securing employment in the state. As I researched what life in Vermont could look like as a remote worker, I came across concerning information about unreliable broadband internet access, if broadband was available at all, more than once. If I were to buy land that didn’t have reliable high speed internet, I couldn’t work remotely on the land. At first Google search, it appeared that lack of access to broadband was a particularly rural grievance; urban areas were mostly all set with internet access, or at least, urban obstacles to internet access were not as reported on or visible in my first search results. That made sense to me in my ignorance of the scope of urban digital exclusion; in my mind, I imagined there were all kinds of internet lines running below or above city streets. Of course people had easier access to internet in cities! I was wrong.

In the summer and fall of 2020, I had the opportunity to gain a more in-depth understanding of digital exclusion in both rural and urban landscapes. I discovered that urban digital exclusion exists and is prevalent; it does not necessarily resemble rural digital exclusion, although sometimes it does. I discovered more similarities in the extent of impacts of digital exclusion on communities, both rural or urban, than I previously realized. As I came across more data and information, the following conviction grew within me: Digital inclusion is not only an urgent social and economic justice issue, it can also be a powerful, unifying issue that bridges the infamous “urban-rural” divide, effecting change toward economic justice for all.

Before I get to a summary of digital exclusion and its impacts, I have a question for those readers who already have access to reliable internet: How much would lack of internet access, insufficient internet access speeds, unreliable internet connection, or weak digital skills disrupt your present economic reality? How would deficiency in one or more of these areas have obstructed your opportunities in life? How would they have obstructed getting you to where you are today?

I encourage you to take a moment to recall the cost of your own internet subscription (if you have one) and the top speeds available to you by your provider. For example, in my household, we pay $150 a month for download speeds of up to 300 mbps, potentially using 6+ devices at once. Then, take the quiz “How Much Speed Do You Need?” and peek at the first graphic under the header “What is good internet speed?” on the same page. How much speed do you need to maintain your household’s lifestyle–especially during this pandemic?

The consequences of lack of access to affordable, reliable and adequate internet speeds affect myriad areas of our lives in 2021. Lack of internet access impacts our opportunity to access material resources, further education, access healthcare, achieve economic security, improve our overall quality of life, and work, attend school, socialize and entertain from home, all together, during a global pandemic. I hope consideration of your own dependency on the internet makes realization of the economic injustice of lack of access more personal and poignant. I hope it moves you, as it moved me, to view digital equity as both a top priority to be addressed by government and as a unifying priority in seeking economic justice for all in this country.

So, let’s investigate the major sources of digital inequity and its comparable impacts on both urban and rural communities alike. Please explore the links to learn more.

Digital InequityGeographic ContextGeographic Context
Lack of Accessible, Affordable, Quality and/or Reliable Access to High Speed Internet
Lack of Access to Digital Literacy Education
+ Digital Redlining (Article 1) and inferior, outdated infrastructure that limits internet speed capacity

+ Subscription Costs: consumer inability to afford [to maintain] an internet subscription and low cost but low speed “solutions”

+ Technology Costs and inability to afford devices to connect (e.g. for entire household)
+ Lack of Digital Literacy/Education
+ Absence of fixed broadband infrastructure

+ Digital Redlining (Article 2) and inferior, outdated infrastructure that limits internet speed capacity

+ Subscription Costs: consumer inability to afford [to maintain] an internet subscription and low cost but low speed “solutions

+ Technology Costs and inability to afford devices to connect (e.g. for entire household)
Lack of Digital Literacy/Education
Lack of internet adoption or inadequate internet speeds are egregious barriers to:
– Employment (e.g. Search, Application) and the Digitalization of Jobs
-Youth & Adult Education
– Professional Development
-Healthcare & Disability Services
-Civic Engagement (e.g. Voting, Census, Etc.)
-Government Services (e.g. Food Stamps, research and application for eligibility)
-Online Money Management
-News, Culture and Information
– Shopping, Delivery
– Etc.

As a result of the pandemic, disparities in access to internet have shrunken some; virtual schooling and remote work made access to reliable internet a more urgent priority for local, state and the federal government to address. Hopefully this sense of urgency does not fall out of view once children return to school in-person and employed adults return to work. The limits on and exclusions from opportunity for those economically marginalized by digital exclusion, both rural and urban, will remain and accumulate so long as we are satisfied with the inequity of the status quo.

Well before you or I ever live in a rural community, we can begin to seek the betterment of rural economic opportunity, urban and suburban opportunity simultaneously, by educating others about and advocating for economic justice through digital inclusion.

Next up…

“If you’re going to organize with folks, you first respect their top values.”
– Robert (Bob/Bobby) E. Lee, Jr. III, Field Marshal, Black Panther Party

“The First Rainbow Coalition” PBS Documentary, 2020

In the next post, I will zero in on a area of economic opportunity where rural areas’ and urban areas’ economic needs are complimentary. I will propose an idea for how urban and rural areas might work together in partnership to create new economic opportunities in light of these complimentary needs. My idea includes the invitation for urban dwellers to consider moving to and/or investing in rural community as an act of seeking economic justice for both rural and urban alike–for all.

In other news:

  1. I took the LSAT and have my score. I am also pretty decided on the schools I’d like to apply to. On to applications!
  2. I submitted my final application for affordable housing. I’m eligible for a studio apartment or a one-bedroom. Now I wait. I’m praying for something good!
  3. The intentional community book discussion group has met twice since I last posted! We rolled 13 people deep–with several couples–on our first call. It’s been encouraging to connect with like-minds who are thinking about rural life and/or intentional community. The book we’re reading, Creating Life Together, goes into great detail about what it takes to be one of the 10% of successful, healthy, thriving intentional communities.

Until the next post and thank you for reading!

Copyright © 2021 A.M. Wilsonne

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