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Inequality has been on the rise in America for decades now, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought it to attention like never before.

The pandemic devastated communities in poverty. Not everyone could quarantine, with working class and essential workers facing the highest risks. The disease and its fallout also disproportionately impacted people of color, laying bare our broken economic system.

American inequality has reached a point where self-determination is a privilege increasingly few can afford.

This dysfunctional economy undermines countless tenets of social justice that Friends hold dear. As the country reopens, we have a chance to push for a recovery that promises basic humanity to individuals who have been overlooked for far too long.

American inequality has reached a point where self-determination is a privilege increasingly few can afford. Stagnant wages accompanied by inadequate safety nets have caused millions to give labor their all and get less in return. Basic components of survival. like nutritious food and comfortable homes. cost more than ever before, and time spent outside the labor market poses a direct trade-off.

Those experiencing poverty are unable to devote time to their health, passions and family. Acknowledging the good in everyone means recognizing that each deserves to live with security and joy no matter their economic status.

We live in the wealthiest country on earth, and when our government offers resources to lift people up, they work. My grandfather was a rare Libertarian-Quaker, but he lived with a great irony: his success was thanks to government intervention. Raised by working-class Swedish immigrants, the G.I. Bill funded his college education, then medical school, and eventually changed his family trajectory for generations. Even if we pride ourselves on avoiding monetary culture, it’s clear that financial stability affects every aspect of our lives.

While my grandfather’s story points to the power legislation can have, it also indicates the injustice that arises when trying to climb the socioeconomic ladder. Not only did beneficiaries of the G.I. Bill first have to engage in military service, widespread discrimination ensured that non-white veterans rarely got the support they were promised.

As members of a faith that overwhelmingly supports antiracist action, we must recognize that equity cannot be achieved without reworking our economy.

While legislators were drafting the bill that would transform my grandfather’s life, districts were simultaneously being redrawn to force Black and brown families into substandard homes while excluding their children from supposedly integrated schools.

My grandfather was the demographic America wants to lift up, a white man without a disability. He was brilliant and driven, but so were millions of others who the United States has readily ignored. As members of a faith that overwhelmingly supports antiracist action, we must recognize that equity cannot be achieved without reworking our economy. The pandemic has shone a spotlight on inequality and if we harness this momentum, we can change the lives of future generations by investing trillions in those who need it most.

The longer America fails to address our economic system, the harder it will be to repair. Climate change will continue to disproportionately damage people of color experiencing poverty, making basic living conditions even harder to achieve. The income gap will steadily widen, but one of the first steps we can take is reforming the tax system. By having the wealthiest pay their fair share, the government can provide tax credits to individuals who need them the most.

Quakers have always felt compelled to act on a diverse array of issues, but the state of poverty in this country is all encompassing. Whether you feel drawn to racial, climate, or criminal justice issues, the chance for all to have a comfortable and loving life is central.

People: Eli Zerof

Eli Zerof

Intern, Quaker Engagement - Summer 2021
Eli Zerof was the intern for Quaker engagement. He is a second year student at the University of Chicago, studying Political Science and Public Policy.

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