How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mind the gap - the dividing of America

When I was growing up in the late ’50s and early ’60s, social mobility and the American dream were national ideals. They were bedrock principles right up there with apple pie and motherhood. If you worked hard, you’d succeed. Immigrants who came to this country with just the clothing on their backs could achieve their life dreams.

My dad, who was raised by his grandmother and never completed high school, did just that. As a child, he dreamed of owning his own car, his own house and his own small business. He did all three. Nowadays, instead of getting ahead, as George Packer writes in “The Unwinding”: “more Americans than ever before … just manage to survive.” Further, there is growing resentment among post-baby boomers of having grown up at the end of the era of plenty. They fear they will be less upwardly mobile than their parents’ generation.

A recent Pew survey revealed that Americans now see the widening gap between the rich and the poor as our greatest threat. The severity of the divergence and the on-the-ground consequences of the growing gap was recently confirmed to me in two very different ways. First, they were reaffirmed in numerical terms by the new book “Capital in the Twenty-first Century” by French economist Thomas Piketty, which was described by Paul Krugman as “the most important economics book of the year – and maybe of the decade.”

Using historical data, Piketty shows that in the last 30 years, inequality throughout the world, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom, has grown dramatically. The book’s core finding is that the rate of growth of income from capital (which includes rental income, dividends, interest income) is far greater than the rate of growth from income earned from wages.

Piketty contends we are now living in a new Gilded Age, with wealth inequality that mirrors the time before World War I. He pessimistically forecasts sharply increasing inequality of wealth in industrialized countries. Piketty does not subscribe to the notion that, as societies modernize, inequality becomes less prevalent.

A recent trip to Atlanta further reinforced my sense that we are becoming an increasingly divided nation. Whenever possible, while away on vacation, I try to use public transportation to get around. In Atlanta, I rode the subway and the buses of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transportation Authority system. The subway system, which primarily serves the downtown area, was fine. It was clean and ran fairly frequently and was used by a mix of blacks and whites.

On the other hand, the bus riders were almost exclusively African-American and the wait for a bus was extremely long – as long as 55 minutes. The differential in service between the two modes of public transportation seemed to be a function of who rides them. The hotel’s front desk didn’t even have information available about the bus system for its guests.

In the morning, at bus stops close to hospitals, most of the riders were black orderlies, support staff and patients in their wheel chairs seeking to get to work and to doctors’ appointments. On the buses after 4:30 p.m., there were lots of African-American construction workers with their hardhats and lunch pails, and service workers in their uniforms.

There appear to be two Atlantas. On excursions to Atlanta tourist sites, I noticed that those who were working at lower-skilled jobs, i.e. custodians, kitchen workers, busboys, ticket takers, tour guides, hawkers at the ball park, were almost always black. The folks in suits at the tourist sites were, with very few exceptions, white. The waiters in upscale restaurants were white and the wait-staff African-American. The guests at the hotel were largely white businessmen and -women.

In the powerful new book “The Divide — American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap,” Matt Taibbi, a contributing editor and blogger for Rolling Stone, writes passionately about the unequal administration of justice to the rich and poor in our country and what he perceives as a “profound hatred of the weak and poor.” Taibbi laments a change in the American psyche that allowed us to develop a justice system that is geared for the rich and against the poor. He writes: “Buried in our hatred of the dependent, in Mitt Romney’s lambasting of the 47 percent, in the water carrier’s contempt for the water drinkers, is a huge national psychological imperative. Many national controversies are on some level debates about just exactly how much we should put up with from the ‘nonproducing’ citizenry.”

It is depressing to think that we have may have wholly lost our sense of caring and understanding for those in need in America. To ensure that’s not the case, we need to address the “justice gap,” level the playing field, provide equal educational opportunity for all and make sure that government, at all levels, provides high-quality services to all citizens in our state and across the country.