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Proposed CSAI: Escalating Inequality

Congregational Study/Action Issues (CSAIs) are issues selected by Unitarian Universalist member congregations for four years of study, reflection and action. 


Upward mobility—the American Dream—has become a myth. Concentration of wealth and power has skyrocketed. King’s dream of justice and equality has fractured. Half of all Americans are impoverished or struggling, as the middle class shrinks and billionaires take the profits. Where’s our commitment to the Common Good?

Grounding in Unitarian Universalism

Our Unitarian Universalist (UU) tradition places its faith in people to create a more loving community for all, guided by “justice, equity, and compassion in human relations”. Challenging extreme inequality has now become a moral imperative, just as prior generations have led movements from abolition to civil rights and marriage equality.

Topics for Congregational Study

  • What do the numbers show about the expansion of extreme wealth and increase in struggling households?
  • What are the lessons to be learned from the history of movements for economic justice, here and abroad, dating back to the last Gilded Age?
  • How are social classes formed and what practices will help us transcend class barriers in our congregations and communities?
  • What do studies say about the indirect social outcomes of growing economic inequality? These include hidden effects on hierarchy, discrimination, segregation, minorities, physical and mental health, education, violence, punishment, political polarization, and public services.
  • Study root causes of inequality, such as corporate globalization, “free trade”, outsourcing, privatization, tax shifting and evasion, subsidies and bailouts, monopoly, suppression of labor, money in politics, “externalizing” social and environmental costs, “free market” / libertarian ideologies, deregulation, unlimited income / wealth.
  • Where to begin: Money out of politics, minimum / living wages, debt servitude / predatory lending. Justice and fairness in taxes and trade. Re-regulate Wall Street and empower workers. Grow opportunity through better healthcare, education, public services, cooperatives, media, democracy. Develop a deeper understanding of classism.
  • Distinguishing among the moral, social, economic, political, and sustainability implications of inequality, imagine a new strategy for the Common Good - “caring and sharing” on a societal level.

Possible Congregational / District Actions

  • Collect current and historical resources on inequality, written and online, from here and abroad.
  • Enlighten yourselves via discussion / film / study groups on the effects, causes, and history of inequality.
  • Develop a variety of spiritual experiences to inspire UUs to transcend barriers of class.
  • Organize action agendas on select issues, networking with other congregations and allied secular and interfaith groups. Collaborate, as feasible, with UU organizations like state Legislative Networks, UUJEC, and UUSC.
  • Join to develop a vision of the common good that animates a movement toward sustainable well-being for all, to reduce demands on the earth’s resources, and to nourish the soul by sharing life’s essentials.

Related Prior Social Witness Statements

  • Amend the Constitution: Corporations are not Persons and Money is not Speech (2013)
  • Raise the Federal Minimum Wage to $10 in 2010 ( 2008)
  • Single Payer Health Care (2008)
  • End Present Day Slavery in the Fields (2008)
  • Support Immigrant Justice (2006)
  • Support for the Millennium Development Goal One: Ending Extreme Poverty (2005)
  • Economic Globalization (2003)
  • Economic Injustice, Poverty, and Racism: We Can Make a Difference (2000)
  • Working for a Just Economic Community (1997)
  • A Job, A Home, A Hope (1995)

Endorsing Congregations

  • Unitarian Church of Evanston IL
  • First UU Church of San Diego CA
  • Unitarian Church of Staten Island NY

Attached Documentation

Sampling of Books / Websites / Videos

  • The Spirit Level—Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett
  • Film “Inequality for All” featuring by Robert Reich
  • Beyond Outrage by Robert Reich
  • Talk “Capitalism Hits the Fan” by Richard D. Wolff
  • Animated website by the Economic Policy Institute
  • The Price of Inequality—How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph Stiglitz
  • Project Syndicate: Zombie Growth
  • 99 to 1 - How Wealth Inequality Is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It by Chuck Collins
  • Videos by Chuck Collins, Richard Wilkinson, and more
  • The End of Growth—Adapting to Our New Economic Reality by Richard Heinberg
  • The End of Growth by Jeff Rubin
  • Nickled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • The Transition Companion—Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times by Rob Hopkins
  • The Great Divergence—America’s Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It by Timothy Noah
  • People Like Us, a PBS series on social class with teacher’s guide
  • Class Matters
  • The Economics of Good and Evil—The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street by Tomas Sedlacek
  • Agenda for a New Economy by David Korten
  • American Beyond Capitalism—Reclaiming our Wealth, our Liberty, and our Democracyby Gar Alperovitz
  • The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World’s Most Powerful Company Really Works and How It’s Transforming the American Economy by Charles Fishman
  • The Global Class War by Jeff Faux
  • Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang
  • 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang
  • The Inheritance: How Three Families and the American Political Majority Moved from Left to Right by Sammuel G. Freedman
  • Prosperity Economics (PDF): Building An Economy for All by Jacob S. Hacker and Nate Loewentheil
  • Billionaire’s Ball: Gluttony and Hubris in an Age of Epic Inequality by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks
  • Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home by Anita Hill
  • Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes by Chuck Collins and William H. Gass
  • Bridging the Class Divide: And Other Lessons for Grassroots Organizing by Linda Stout
  • “They Take Our Jobs!”: And 20 Other Myths About Immigration by Aviva Chomsky
  • (Not) Keeping Up With Our Parents: The Decline of the Professional Middle Class by Nan Mooney
  • Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses by Stacy Mitchell
  • Social Insecurity: 401(k)s and the Retirement Crisis by James W. Russell
  • The Missing Class: Portraits of the Near Poor in America by Katherine Newman and Victor Tan Chen
  • Traveling Light: On the Road with America’s Poor by Kath Weston
  • The Student Loan Scam: The Most Oppressive Debt in U.S. History—and How We Can Fight Back by Alan Michael Collinge
  • The Great Risk Shift: The New Economic Insecurity and the Decline of the American Dream by Jacob Hacker
  • Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson
  • Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age by Larry Bartels
  • Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America by Martin Gilens
  • Ill Fares the Lan by Tony Judt
  • Who Rules America? The Triumph of the Corporate Rich by William Domhoff
  • The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker by Steven Greenhouse

Sampling of Organizations

Additional Information on Social Class

  • Elite: Uncovering Classism in Unitarian Universalist History, written by UU minister Mark Harris. A discussion guide was created for the book by Gail Forsyth-Vail and Susan Dana Lawrence, both of the UUA.
  • Mark Harris (2011) A Faith of the Few? UU World, pp 22-27
  • Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison Reed at 2011 GA discussed that lack of racial diversity was a function of lack of class diversity--so if we want to grow a multicultural/multiracial diversity, we need to tackle inclusion of different classes of people.
  • Suzanne Zilber, PhD, led a workshop exploring issues of class at Midwest Unitarian Universalist Summer Assembly (MUUSA). In October, Suzanne facilitated this 6 hour workshop at UU Fellowship of Ames, Iowa.
  • Rev. Lynn Thomas Strauss has led workshops on Classism with Unitarian Universalism for UU ministers in five UUMA chapters around the country.
  • Doug Muder in UU World Magazine, Fall 2007 wrote “Not my father's religion” about how uncomfortable UU would have been for his working class father.
  • Stout, Linda (1996) Bridging the Class Divide and other Lessons for Grassroots Organizing. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
  • William Liu (2011) Social Class and Classism in the Helping Professions. Sage Publications
  • Alvarez, L. and Kolker, A. (2001) People Like Us: Social Class in America. [Film] New York, NY: The Center for New America Media
  • Smith, L. (2010) Psychology, poverty and the end of social exclusion: Putting our pratice to work. New York, NY: Teacher’s College Press
  • Barratt, W. (2011) Social Class on Campus: Theories and Manifestations. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing
  • Hayes, C. (2012) Twilight of the Elites: American after Meritocracy. New York, NY: Random House
  • Leondar-Wright, B. (2005) Class Matters: Cross-Class Alliance Building for Middle Class Activists. (city,ST) New Society Publishers
  • Labonowski, P, and Freeman, P. ( 20??) Created Equal: A Curriculum for High Schoolers and Middle Schoolers on Class and Classism
  • New York Times correspondents (2005) Class Matters. New York, NY: Henry Holt
  • American Psychological Association (2008) Report on the task force on resources for the inclusion of social class in psychology curricula (PDF)
  • Collins, C and Yeskel, F (2005) Economic Apartheid: A primer on economic inequality and insecurity, United for a Fair Economy

For more information contact

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Last updated on Friday, November 1, 2013.

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