Peace on earth, good will to men

“I became a nurse because I wanted to help people.” This is the most common reply to the question, “Why did you choose nursing?” So many of us are frustrated because we find that helping people is a challenge. Roadblocks created by hospital bureaucracy and the inability to keep people healthy contradict what we learned in nursing school.

We’ve explored the disastrous nature of the reimbursement-driven, insurance-based health system that Americans are victimized by.

Why are people afraid of a system that works well, costs less and dominates the developed world? Why do 185 countries provide paid parental leave, while the US does not? Why do we believe misinformation fed to us by news stations designed to provide entertainment, not news, and ignore statistics, logic and our own experiences?

Rich get richer

Income inequality is not only a death sentence for the poor; it allows the super-rich to exert complete control, based on wealth, over our education and access to information.

The statistics among Americans are staggering – and the disparity only grows:

  • In 2007, the richest 1% owned 34.6% of the nation’s wealth; the bottom 80% owned 15%.
  • In 2011, the top 1% owned 42.7%, and the bottom 80% owned 7%.
  • Now, in 2014, the richest 1% in the US population own more wealth than the bottom 90%.

Winning the lottery jackpot doesn’t place a person in the stratosphere of the wealthiest 1%. That 9% of the population that could be called “middle-class” has its own subdivisions, with the majority of that group being overshadowed by the second tier of the super-rich.

But let’s be clear: most Americans live – survive – on credit. Debt does not equal wealth. Debt creates dependency, enriches banks, hedge funds, creditors – the 1% that get richer every day. When the bubble bursts, as it did in 2008, the rich still get richer and the poor and middle class go further into debt.

Income inequality not only impacts the US Economy, it chips away at our Democracy as well. “Inequality for All,” a 2013 film presented by American economist Robert Reich (former Secretary of Labor 1993-1997), illustrates what happens to our society as the nation’s economic health deteriorates. Check it out.

Racial inequality is linked to income inequality. European immigrants of the past centuries were able to catch a ride on the last trains while the economy moved toward a more egalitarian model. Social movements – many led by these very same immigrants – over the past 150 years pushed this country forward such that the squalor and disease that people were subjected to was largely eradicated. Lillian Wald, the mother of Public Health Nursing, was a pioneer in changing that world for the immigrants of the Lower East Side of NYC. Her story is an inspiration for all nurses.

Since the mid 1970s, things changed. The gaps between rich and poor, narrowed since the 1930s, widened. Outlawing of Jim Crow laws did not stop racism and its institutional forms, income inequality and discrimination continue to this day. Newer immigrants are not as welcome as they were 100 years ago, due to the economic state of the nation and to the racial makeup of the most recent immigrants.

Conversations about race

Racism, like sexism and other forms of discrimination, are not about a blame game. It is hard for people who do not experience these phenomena to develop the empathy necessary to understand them. That doesn’t negate their existence. Conversations about race are uncomfortable but avoiding such interchange won’t resolve the problem. It’s important to note that such divisions are fomented by and only serve to benefit the super-rich; they are always exacerbated during difficult economic times.

“Peace on earth, good will to men” is beautiful on a holiday greeting card. Taking responsibility toward actively supporting this goal is the real blessing.

“A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being.” – Pope Francis, Address to the Food and Agricultural Organization, June 2013

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