OPINION:Twenty Questions – Social Justice Quiz 2008

by Bill Quigley – Human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University, New Orleans

In its 2007 Annual Homeless Report to Congress, HUD reported that nearly one in four people in homeless shelters are children 17 or younger. Bill Quigley’s “Social Justice Quiz 2008″ challenges us to look through the eyes of those less fortunate and educate ourselves about how liberty, opportunity, income and wealth are distributed in the US and around the world. (Photo: Ryan Orr / Flickr)

We in the US who say we believe in social justice must challenge ourselves to look at the world through the eyes of those who have much less than us.

Why? Social justice, as defined by John Rawls, respects basic individual liberty and economic improvement. But social justice also insists that liberty, opportunity, income, wealth and the other social bases of self-respect are to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution is to everyone’s advantage and any inequalities are arranged so they are open to all.

Therefore, we must educate ourselves and others about how liberty, opportunity, income and wealth are actually distributed in our country and in our world. Examining the following can help us realize how much we have to learn about social justice.

1. How many deaths are there worldwide each year due to acts of terrorism?

Answer: The US State Department reported there were more than 22,000 deaths from terrorism last year. Over half of those killed or injured were Muslims. Source: Voice of America, May 2, 2008. “Terrorism Deaths Rose in 2007.”

2. How many deaths are there worldwide each day due to poverty and malnutrition?

A: About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. Poverty.com – Hunger and World Poverty. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes – one child every five seconds. Bread for the World. Hunger Facts: International.

3. 1n 1965, CEOs in major companies made 24 times more than the average worker. In 1980, CEOs made 40 times more than the average worker. In 2007, CEOs earned how many times more than the average worker?

A: Today’s average CEO from a Fortune 500 company makes 364 times an average worker’s pay and over 70 times the pay of a four-star Army general. Executive Excess 2007, page 7, jointly published by Institute for Policy Studies and United for Fair Economy, August 29, 2007. The 1965 numbers from State of Working America 2004-2005, Economic Policy Institute.

4. In how many of the more than 3,000 cities and counties in the US can a full-time worker who earns the minimum wage afford to pay rent and utilities on a one-bedroom apartment?

A: In no city or county in the entire USA can a full-time worker who earns minimum wage afford even a one-bedroom rental. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) urges renters not to pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent. HUD also reports the fair market rent for each of the counties and cities in the US. Nationally, in order to rent a two-bedroom apartment, one full-time worker in 2008 must earn $17.32 per hour. In fact, 81 percent of renters live in cities where the Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom rental is not even affordable with two minimum-wage jobs. Source: Out of Reach 2007-2008, April 7, 2008, National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

5. In 1968, the minimum wage was $1.65 per hour. How much would the minimum wage be today if it had kept pace with inflation since 1968?

A: Calculated in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, the 1968 minimum wage would have been $9.83 in 2007 dollars. Andrew Tobias, January 16, 2008. The federal minimum wage is $6.55 per hour effective July 24, 2008, and will be $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009.

6. True or false? People in the United States spend nearly twice as much on pet food as the US government spends on aid to help foreign countries.

A: True. The USA spends $43.4 billion on pet food annually. Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc. The USA spent $23.5 billion in official foreign aid in 2006. The US government gave the most of any country in the world in actual dollars. As a percentage of gross national income, the US came in second to last among OECD donor countries and ranked number 20 at 0.18 percent behind Sweden at 1.02 percent and other countries such as Norway, Netherlands, Ireland, United Kingdom, Austria, France, Germany, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and others. This does not count private donations, which, if included, may move the US up as high as sixth. The Index of Global Philanthropy 2008, pages 15-19.

7. How many people in the world live on $2 a day or less?

A: The World Bank reported in August 2008 that 2.6 billion people consume less than $2 a day.

8. How many people in the world do not have electricity?

A: Worldwide, 1.6 billion people do not have electricity and 2.5 billion people use wood, charcoal or animal dung for cooking. United Nations Human Development Report 2007/2008, pages 44-45.

9. People in the US consume 42 kilograms of meat per person per year. How much meat and grain do people in India and China eat?

A: People in the US lead the world in meat consumption at 42 kg per person per year, compared to 1.6 kg in India and 5.9 kg in China. People in the US consume five times the grain (wheat, rice, rye, barley, etc.) as people in India, three times as much as people in China, and twice as much as people in Europe. “THE BLAME GAME: Who is behind the world food price crisis,” Oakland Institute, July 2008.

10. How many cars does China have for every 1,000 drivers? India? The US?

A: China has nine cars for every 1,000 drivers. India has 11 cars for every 1,000 drivers. The US has 1,114 cars for every 1,000 drivers. Iain Carson and Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran, “Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future” (2007).

11. How much grain is needed to fill an SUV tank with ethanol?

A: The grain needed to fill an SUV tank with ethanol could feed a hungry person for a year. Lester Brown, CNN.Money.com, August 16, 2006.

12. According to The Wall Street Journal, the richest one percent of Americans earns what percent of the nation’s adjusted gross income? Five percent? Ten percent? Fifteen percent? Twenty percent?

A: “According to the figures, the richest one percent reported 22 percent of the nation’s total adjusted gross income in 2006. That is up from 21.2 percent a year earlier, and it is the highest in the 19 years that the IRS has kept strictly comparable figures. The 1988 level was 15.2 percent. Earlier IRS data show the last year the share of income belonging to the top one percent was at such a high level as it was in 2006 was in 1929, but changes in measuring income make a precise comparison difficult.” Jesse Drucker, “Richest Americans See Their Income Share Grow,” Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2008, page A3.

13. How many people does our government say are homeless in the US on any given day?

A: A total of 754,000 are homeless. About 338,000 homeless people are not in shelters (live on the streets, in cars or in abandoned buildings) and 415,000 are in shelters on any given night. The 2007 US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Annual Homeless Report to Congress, page iii and 23. The population of San Francisco is about 739,000.

14. What percentage of people in homeless shelters are children?

A: HUD reports nearly one in four people in homeless shelters are children 17 or younger. Page iv, the 2007 HUD Annual Homeless Report to Congress.

15. How many veterans are homeless on any given night?

A: Over 100,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. About 18 percent of the adult homeless population are veterans. Page 32, the 2007 HUD Homeless Report. This is about the same population as Green Bay, Wisconsin.

16. The military budget of the United States in 2008 is the largest in the world at $623 billion per year. How much larger is the US military budget than that of China, the second-largest in the world?

A: Ten times. China’s military budget is $65 billion. The US military budget is nearly 10 times larger than the second leading military spender. GlobalSecurity.org

17. The US military budget is larger than how many of the countries of the rest of the world combined?

A: The US military budget of $623 billion is larger than the budgets of all the countries in the rest of the world put together. The total global military budget of the rest of the world is $500 billion. Russia’s military budget is $50 billion, South Koreas is $21 billion, and Irons is $4.3 billion. GlobalSecurity.org.

18. Over the 28-year history of the Berlin Wall, 287 people perished trying to cross it. How many people have died in the last four years trying to cross the border between Arizona and Mexico?

A: At least 1,268 people have died along the border of Arizona and Mexico since 2004. The Arizona Daily Star keeps track of the reported deaths along the state border, and it reports 214 died in 2004; 241 in 2005, 216 in 2006, 237 in 2007, and 116 as of July 31, 2008. These numbers do not include deaths along the California or Texas borders. The Border Patrol reported that 400 people died in fiscal 2206-2007, while 453 died in 2004-2005 and 494 died in 2004-2005. Source The Associated Press, November 8, 2007.

19. India is ranked second in the world in gun ownership with four guns per 100 people. China is third with third firearms per 100 people. Which country is first and how widespread is gun ownership?

A: The US is first in gun ownership worldwide with 90 guns for every 100 citizens. Laura MacInnis, “US most armed country with 90 guns per 100 people.” Reuters, August 28, 2007.

20. What country leads the world in the incarceration of its citizens?

A: The US jails 751 inmates per 100,000 people, the highest rate in the world. Russia is second with 627 per 100,000. England’s rate is 151, Germany’s is 88 and Japan’s is 63. The US has 2.3 million people behind bars, more than any country in the world. Adam Liptak, “Inmate Count in US Dwarfs Other Nations'” New York Times, April 23, 2008.

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Posted on 09/14/2008, in OPINION and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. As a Catholic, your analogy referencing Germany and Mexico (migration and deaths) is erroneous and unfair. Germans were stopped from going into parts of their OWN country where many family members resided. They were often shot dead my police or military. In this country, we offer legal ways for people to migrate (many of my inlaws are from Hondorus & have migrated); those who come here legally can sponsor other family members. Our police and military do not knowingly shoot to kill illegal immigrants. Our country is burdened with many problems; illegal immigration just adds more poverty and more problems (when Mexico won’t fix its own problems because it depends upon us to take its people). Americans can leave this country any time they wish; the same was not the case for Germans during the war. Mexican violence is spreading into our U.S. border citizies; American citizens pay taxes for many things, including protection from crime. We ALL should be working to get Mexico to deal with its problems of poverty, not adding more problems to our own country when we have legal Americans hurting, often due to their own poor choices. This is still the most free and greatest country on earth, which is why others wish to come here. With the real threat of terrorism and border violence, border security is a must. Illegal immigration should NOT be encouraged. It needs to be stopped. There are legal remedies. I shall spend my energy donating time, talent and money to charitable causes. As a Catholic and someone who has worked with the Migrant Education Program locally, I appreciate ALL GSWH does for the poor of our community, but I do not appreciate exaggerated untruths in its politics.

  2. I think where the analogy holds true is that regardless of who put the wall up or how the people crossing die, they are both cases of desperate people willing to risk their lives to escape their country.

    We are trying to gain a better understanding of immigration laws because the issue is in the news and we want to educate ourselves as best we can about it from our faith perspective, and also from the perspective of the poor. Several of us who are active in the community have visited the sister parish of our local parish (Holy Faith) in Guatemala and met some of the families of undocumented immigrants in our country who are sending money home to them. It is a heartbreaking situation and a case of real “family values” – people leaving their homes and their families at great risk to themselves because they see no other way to support them.

    Added to the tragedy of those individual lives is the unfortunate fact that – as great as our country is – we have had and continue to have policies that contribute greatly to the wretched poverty in Mexico and Central America. It’s a mess, and we hold some of the responsibility. You are right that there needs to be change in the countries of origin of the people who are fleeing them, but it also seems right that we contribute to that positive change – while helping deal justly with those desperate enough to risk death in order to provide for their family’s basic needs.

    Your work with Migrant education is a wonderful way to help those families. We are hoping to get a better understanding of immigration and the just policies called for at future roundtables at the house (look under subject “roundtables” for past discussion; and check “this week” for opportunities as they arise in the future).

    Thanks for writing.

    -Kelli

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