What’s the Deal with Economic Justice & Poverty?

A Social Justice Primer for Teens and Parents

The Broader Issue

Economic Justice is the principle that all people should have reliable and sufficient access to food and housing in a given economy. The sub-issues that are typically focused on by advocates for economic justice include hunger, housing and homelessness, labor issues, pay equity, and living and minimum wage.

With an overall population of nearly 324 million people, nearly 45 million (13.5 percent) are living in poverty. According to the Federal Poverty Line Guidelines, that means that an individual is earning less than $11,880 per year, and a family of 4 has a total annual income of less than $24,300. There are approximately 565,000 people who are homeless on any given night (15 percent are considered “chronically homeless,” 8 percent are veterans, and 6.5 percent are children), and over 42 million Americans live in food insecure households, meaning they do not have reliable financial and/or logistical access to a sufficient quantity of nutritious food.  

There are a broad range of factors that contribute to an individual or family experiencing economic injustice, including lack of access to quality education, substance abuse, high cost of housing, lack of job opportunities, and more. Moreover, within the United States poverty disproportionally affects People of Color.

The Reform Movement Position

Jewish teachings and values instruct us to care for the poor, the disenfranchised, the children, the sick, the elderly, the disabled, and more, and the Reform Movement upholds these commitments through a robust economic justice platform. Since the 1970s, the URJ has been urging Congress to pass legislation that makes basic human rights attainable for all citizens, and continues to fight for economic justice issues like raising the minimum wage, supporting child nutrition, and affordable housing.

Questions for Teens & Parents to Explore Together

  1. How would you define economic injustice? What does it mean, to you?
  2. What is power, in the case of economic injustice?
  3. How can you leverage your power to help fights against economic injustice?
  4. What is your obligation, rooted in Judaism, to help those who are suffering from economic injustice?

Taking Action

Raising awareness is the first step, but in order to affect real change, ongoing, tangible action needs to be taken. Your family, and your teen, may consider some of the following options to take their learning to the next level:

  • Visit the Religious Action Center’s Urgency of Now website for immediate legislative action items, such as advocating your position to members of Congress.
  • Consider spending part of a summer on a URJ Mitzvah Corps program that explores economic justice within the United States:
    • Pacific Northwest – Work to resettle refugees, and support their efforts to provide for their families in a new country.
    • New Orleans – Explore how access to critical resources varies by socioeconomic status within the city of New Orleans.
    • Urban Mitzvah Corps New Jersey – Support local community initiatives to provide affordable food and childcare for low-income families.
    • Want to take economic justice to the international level? Check out the programs in Costa Rica!