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Jun 24, 2022

I wonder how anxiety has shaped you, is shaping you-your family, your work? Our anxieties drive our relationships with God, reality and one another more than we know. They can keep us meek rather than bold; coy rather than candid; fearful when faith is needed. The leadership Jesus practiced invites us to increase our capacity for holding steady in the face of personal and institutional anxiety. Holding steady is not the performance of calm. It’s not inaction or indifference, it’s a proactive stance. The chess player waiting for his turn to move is not inactive. The scientist waiting for the results from her latest experiment isn’t being passively inactive. Holding steady is not rigidity. Rigidity is an inability to bend. Holding steady is an embodied spiritual stance on the way to adaptation. Holding steady is what the Apostle Paul is referring to when he says, “…having done everything to stand, stand therefore.” Which is, having executed the plan according to the purpose, now actively waiting and watching for intended impact and new iterations.

Ephesians 6:13

For People with Bishop Rob Wright

The podcast expands on Bishop’s For Faith devotional, drawing inspiration from the life of Jesus to answer 21st-century questions.

Read the Transcript

You know, a listener might go to a food pantry to help. I encourage them to sort of get out from behind the table where the bags are, where the food is, and go have a conversation and learn about what’s been going on in the life of someone who’s there to get help. And then, think about all the forces in society that have had an impact on that person’s life and what we might do differently.

This is For People with Bishop Rob Wright.

Rob: Hello, everyone, this is Bishop Rob Wright and this is For People. We’ve got a great treat today, we’re on with Professor Luke Shaefer from the University of Michigan. He’s educated at Oberlin College and a PhD from the University of Chicago School of Social Administration. And he cares an awful lot about poverty. His work has been cited in the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, The Atlantic, and The LA Times. Luke, Good morning.

Luke: Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Rob: We are so glad that you’re here to have a conversation about America to talk a little bit about poverty in America. So, I always like to start off asking folks sort of how do you come to this work? You’ve got a wonderful body of work, you co-authored a book about living on $2 a day, how do you come to this work? Why this work for you?

Luke: Well, it actually came through my faith life. So, I grew up as a preacher’s kid. My dad was an Episcopal Priest. We were in a small town in Michigan. And when I was in about seventh grade, he went through a career crisis and left the church pretty quickly. And we had the move within a month. And, you know, as a small town, an Episcopal priest, I think we were sort of clinging on to the bottom rung to the middle class. And in that moment, we experienced a pretty bad spell, you know. We only had a place to live because of a parishioner who sort of helped us get a place that at a low rent. And I, you know, went through this period where I realized we just really didn’t have enough to make ends meet. But my family, rather than having to go to the to the welfare office to get a little bit of help, when it was in crisis, we had a family network. You know, we had grandma and grandpa who could help out. Things weren’t great, but we had that safety net to fall back on. So, that really had me thinking about– You know, sort of in that moment I thought of myself not as poor because I had the safety net inside the family, but I certainly wasn’t middle class. And we moved into Ann Arbor, which was a more affluent place, so I could see that other people were doing a lot better.

So that just got me really sort of thinking that somehow I was in between parts of society and wondering if I could do something to try to help make connections, right? And try to help people in different parts of the economic ladder understand and especially folks further up that really had no ideas what was going on with families that struggled to make ends meat. I wanted to help them understand and see if I could help us do something about it.

Rob: Yeah. You use the phrase, make ends meat. I’m a kid who grew up in public housing. And knows something about sort of clinging to bottom rungs. I used to hear my parents talk about ends meat so often I thought it was actually a meat dish. I would hear them talking about ends meat, ends meat, I was like, will someone please call this ends meat so that we can stop talking about the thing.

Luke: What’s all the hype about?

Rob: Exactly. Of course, I grew up and learned exactly what they meant. They meant that it is tough to be poor in America. And you can be a working poor. Both my parents always worked, worked long days, many hours, kept a roof over our head. But it was always robbing Peter to pay Paul to use another phrase.

So, give us a sketch. What are we looking at in our country right now? You know, what we say and what we here said, is that the gap is getting increasingly wider between the haves and have nots. And of course, COVID has accelerated some of that. It’s sort of amplified or laid bare these disparities. So, how are we doing in terms of the poor in America?

Luke: Well, I’m going to sort of start with the pre-COVID answer. And then I’m going to give a little bit of the COVID answer, which is there are some actual positive notes in there that I would like people to recognize. I would like to lift that up.

As you were sort of saying about your parents, the experience of most poor families are working families. Especially when you are looking at children who are experiencing poverty, 70 plus percent have parents or an adult who is working over the course of the year. So, we sometimes make these distinctions between the working poor and the non-working poor, and to some extent those can help us. But really the predominant sort of experience in America, is a family who’s trying to work but the you know, often that job is low pay, the job is unstable. So, a lot of retail jobs, of course, have hours that fluctuate. You might be working 30 hours a week one week, and then 10 or 15 the next. And that makes it really hard actually to, you know– One thing humans are really bad at is instability or volatility like that. How do you plan when your paycheck is changing? And what happens to your public benefits, if you have to renew when you’re making, you know, you are working 30-hours a week or go down to 15. Your benefits sometimes go down when you are making more.

So, I like to think of poverty in America as really, an unstable, sort of a volatile experience where if you catch me at one point in the year maybe there is someone that is working in the household. We think maybe we are sort of on the way out. Another part of the year, something happened in that job, the hours changed, go cut, or something happened in your family. That is another piece of the puzzle. Low income families often have sort of family lives that change a lot, people coming in and out of the house. And some of that is driven by the expenses. A real big expense that low income Americans struggle with is housing. A huge fraction of Americans pay more than 30% of their income towards. That is our usual designation for unaffordable.

Many Americans pay half of their income towards housing. So, we’ve increasingly seen families who are doubling up, families that can not afford a place, they are couch surfing and may be working during that period. But they still can’t afford an apartment on what they make. We have a lot of instability. We have a lot of instability in housing. We see a lot of kids that are moving a lot and don’t record at school that they have a permanent place to stay at some point, as they are growing up. We see instability in jobs where there is a lot of hour fluctuation, or you know, a lot of labor law violations, turns out there is not a lot of consequence if you break labor laws. And folks that might get paid less than minimum wage or asked to work overtime without added compensation, there is not a lot of tools at their disposal to fight that. And then, a lot of instability in family life too.

Rob: Yeah. Yeah. I think the word that I want to take away from all of that is just this volatility, right? And certainly, in Atlanta, I’m in a Atlanta, you are in Michigan, we see a lot of that in Atlanta. We see that it comes with a white face, and it comes with a black face. You know, it’s in the immigrant community, Hispanic folks. It is just a high degree of volatility and people are sort of one catastrophe away from real destitution. Is that right?

Luke: Yeah. That’s exactly right. So, you have a lot of people who are living on the edge, a lot of people that we have sort of fallen off the edge. Just lives that are constantly in flux because of that. And as you said, poverty affects, you know, pretty much any person that you can imagine. Poverty can impact families. People of color are disproportionately likely to experience poverty. I think of that as like the consequence of century-plus of structural racism. But white families, also the majority of people, according to our data that are in poverty, are white families. So, it’s not right to say it only affects sort of one group or another. It disproportionately affects people of color. But there are millions of white families who are below the poverty line or just sort of right above it as well.

Rob: Yeah. We’ve had in advance of your visit with us we’ve had on Jonathan Redford, who’s executive director of Habitat for Humanity. Excuse me. And we’ve had Dr. Starsky Wilson, who’s executive director of Children’s Defense Fund. And so, we’re sort of working out this theme. We’re sort of talking about the poor among us. We do this for people who are wondering, so what’s the faith component behind this? You know, Jesus talked a lot about the poor, talked a lot about people that we would label now as having pre-existing health conditions. He talked a lot about even his own homelessness. And he told us amazing story about a man who died sumptuously, night after night. And he had to walk past another man who was at his gate, who was unwell, who was poor, even the dogs licked his sores. That’s a very familiar story from the Gospels.

I was always struck by the tension in that story, that from the front gate to his dining room table, where he died sumptuously, that was the gap. That the poor lived right at his gate and he died sumptuously. And so, the poor are all around us. There may be some people who are listening who would say that they are poor. And so, we’re talking about sort of being in close proximity, and yet living two very different realities in one, you know, what I would say, is a great country. And so, what percentage of folks in America would you say are living below the poverty line and tell us about that poverty line?

Luke: Yeah, and I want to come back to this sort of theme of being in relationship and where that comes from the gospel to, because I have some thoughts on that as well. I like to use a lot of different kinds of data to try to sort of really triangulate on who is really below what we would call poverty. The official statistics, I think at last count, put it somewhere around 12%. So, that would be 12% of the US public would be something along the lines of 35 to 40-million people. That is a lot of people. And I think some people would argue that line is set pretty low and that you could actually double it to twice the poverty line. So, just to give a sense of where we are, the official statistic would put you under the poverty line if you have an income of less than $24,000 a year. So, a lot of people say, if you are making $30,000 a year, you are still really struggling with rent and still really struggling to put food on the table. Maybe it could be $40,000. That is where you may have a fighting chance. And if you do that, you are talking more like 50 to 60-million people. And it is in urban areas like Atlanta and Detroit. It is growing fastest in the recent years in the suburbs as well. We’ve seen some out migration from cities and into suburbs. And that has some positive things for families, sort of reduces the concentration of poor families and poor places. It can create its own challenges. William Julius Wilson wrote a very famous book on this.

But it also has some challenges where a lot of our service providers are actually clustered in the cities. And so, if you get out to the suburbs and you need help, you get into a crisis. There’s sort of fewer sort of types of services that can really help you out. And then finally, some of our very, very poorest places are in rural America. I think, you know, for every 100 books about poverty, we think about it are about urban poverty. Sometimes we even just say urban poverty. But if you look at the places that have the lowest incomes, you look at the places that have the lowest life expectancy, you know, like 10-years less than the average American lives. Look at the places with the lowest mobility, that’s often in rural places, and that’s a very racially diverse space to. I think some people think rural America is predominantly white. And some places it is. But in other places, you have communities that are predominantly African Americans, or predominantly Latino, you know, many different types of communities. And a lot that are struggling because the fewest resources tend to go to those places. I think they’re often sort of forgotten.

Rob: Sure. And certainly, that is the case here. So, the Diocese of Atlanta, which is my jurisdiction as Bishop, is 75-1/2 counties in the middle of north Georgia. And, you know, yeah– And what’s interesting about that is, is that it defies easy definition and stereotypes. So, there is white rural poverty, there is black rural poverty. And then of course there is the urban phenomenon.

And then increasingly over my time in Atlanta, I’ve been in Atlanta 20 years now, we’ve seen the suburbs, you know, also be shaken by this. I remember when we had the 2008 housing crash, all the bank issues with the bad mortgages, and I had some friends who were in the luxury real estate business. And it sent a lot of these folks who had these plush homes, extravagant homes really spirally down and really sort of trapped. They had sort of built up a life with all the decorations of what we would call financial success. And then now, all of that was sort of eroding away. And they didn’t have anyone to tell.

So, a friend of mine called me who was selling real estate and he said, “You got to give me some of those Pastoral tricks. You got to help me talk to these folks. These folks are on the ledge here.” The shame of it all.

Luke: Yeah.

Rob: Of having had, but not having now, of it all going away in an instant. And so, this is hitting our suburbs, you know, as well. And so, you wanted to make a connection about the Gospel. I love when people have got their own, who bring their own sort of understanding of the Gospels to their work. Tell me something about that.

Luke: Yeah, I mean, just thinking about the story, the parable that you were referencing. As I thought about my own work, I’ve really thought that the call of the Gospel is to be in relationship, across divides. And so, there’s a very clear path that I can do my work, and mostly in my fairly nice office at the University of Michigan. And, you know, I could read books and I could look at data. And then, when I get frustrated, I could go down and get a cup of coffee at the coffee shop down the corner. And I think I could do okay work that way. But I have really come to believe that from that positionality, there are sometimes questions that I don’t even know to ask. There is this whole reality, you were sort of saying, I think of it has often being in the same places but not the same spaces. So, my book $2.00 A Day was really the first time that I did work like that. We looked at a lot of big data, administrative data, and survey data. But we went out and got to know families who were really, really not just poor by American standards but really, really poor. They might have food assistance. Some had a housing subsidy. But they didn’t have any money coming into the household.


And I always remember, we were getting to know a couple of moms in Chicago actually, Jennifer Hernandez asking folks, you know, what do you do to get that little bit of money to get toothpaste or toilet paper, keep the utility bill, you know, keep the utilities on? And she was walking us through things and talked about selling blood plasma. So, as we got to know families, we started to see a little divot on the inside crease of their elbows. And, you know, the first time I saw it, I actually thought, “Oh, well, that’s a drug track line maybe.” Maybe she’s clean now. But maybe that explains some of her experience. And in this case, it wasn’t it was a scar from selling her blood plasma so often. So, that’s what got us into looking at the plasma industry. And it turns out the United States is the only developed country where you can sell your blood plasma twice a week, every other country is deemed the health risk is too great. We don’t have a lot of information on the health risks, but that’s sort of not by coincidence either. And the United States actually accounts for about 70% of the world’s plasma supply and only 40% of the demand. We actually export the blood plasma of predominantly poor Americans all over the world. And it turns out to be one of the most profitable industries in the world, one of the most, according to The Economist, it one of the most profitable industries in the world. And so, we literally have an industry, where the raw material is the blood of poor Americans, we’ve been called the OPEC of blood plasma, fueling this internationally, you know, extremely profitable industry.

And I was a so-called poverty expert. I didn’t know anything about it until I went out and actually talked to people.

Rob: Right. That is amazing. And I know people can only hear my voice, here our voices. But if they can see me, my mother is on my desk. The OPEC of blood plasma.

Luke: Yeah. Yeah, so, you know, we got to know Travis and Jessica Compton in Tennessee, they’re in eastern Tennessee. And this was the only money coming into their household when we got to know them. Travis had some tattoos that he couldn’t account for exactly the timeline when he got them. So, Jessica was the one that sold her plasma. She would buy with their full assistance an iron rich breakfast bar to eat because she went because your iron levels have to be at a certain level. And she’d get a little nervous. And so, she also had to keep her blood pressure down. So, she would check out a book from the library. It turns out libraries, you know, we think of as the living rooms of America’s extreme bore, because they really provide sort of an open space and access to books and resources. And they would walk over to the plasma center and she would fill out the forms and then sit on a, you know– She would go back, into the back, she would get hooked up, and it would take an hour or an hour and a half of so in total. And she would walk away with 30-bucks. And this money was essential, right? And actually, when we looked at the data, it turned out between about 2006 and now, we’ve had a quadrupling in the number of plasma sales in the United States. We are up over 40-million in the most recent years.

Some people read our book and thought, we should– This is exploited. We shouldn’t allow people to sell their plasma. And I said, no, no, no. I know what the other options are. I know what Jessica has to do if she can’t sell her plasma. In the short term, I would rather have her sell her plasma. It is legal. What we really need is to figure out ways that she doesn’t need to sell her plasma, right? To make ends meat.

Rob: Exactly. Let me make a point there, about what you learned, by sort of leaving your office and leaving your coffee shop, and getting, you know, up close with folks. I remember a story that I heard some time ago about a woman who wrote, she was a foremost authority on sort of slave plantations in the Caribbean. Sugarcane plantations and all the wealth that was generated there for the “new world”. She went on a trip to Jamacia with other scholars, they were on the proverbial tour bus and going around. They saw kids eating a long stalking thing. She wondered out loud to the tour leader, what was that stalk thing that the kids were eating? And of course, it was sugar cane. So, here she was as the foremost authority on slave plantations and sugar cane plantations, she didn’t know the day to day reality of that.

And so, Bryan Stevenson has told us some time ago, that it is proximity, proximity, proximity, proximity. And of course, Jesus’s ministry bears that out. Sort of the walking around Galilee and the insights that come from talking to people who are actually experiencing the hardship. So, I think that is one part of the invitation today. If I don’t really make a great effort myself, you just drive past folks. You don’t have any ill will for anyone, but they are just not part of your circle, part of your life, and therefore, you don’t really get the need. When you drive down the roads in Atlanta, I’m sure this is true in Michigan, you see them under the bridges. You see folks all around. You see the lines outside of Home Depot and Lowes, people trying to do a little bit of labor for a few dollars to subsistence stuff.

So, it’s all about proximity. You talk about relationship. The Bible talks about neighborliness. Dr. King helped us to understand that, you know, we can build up wonderful little walls in our cul-de-sac and put gates and guards out front. But at the end of the day, we’re still going to be neighbors. Because what affects one affects all. And I think we’re starting to really get that. We are way late. But I think we are starting to get that. You began to make a move now in this conversation about short term solutions and perhaps overall solutions.

So, I wonder, what can we do about this thing? I mean, relationship, and neighborliness, proximity is all good stuff. But what can we do? Are there policies that are coming out of this administration? What’s cutting edge to begin to reduce poverty in our country?

Luke: Yeah. I’m going to highlight two things. One is the is the COVID experience. So, during COVID, we took a very different path. By we, I mean, the federal government of how do we address an economic crisis. That last crisis that you mentioned, you know, starting in like 2008, we did many things to help families who were struggling. But the were often very targeted, lots of eligibility requirements to make sure somebody who didn’t really need it, didn’t get it. And I think that had the impact of meaning, we didn’t do as much as we could and a lot of people were left out. And we had a really long recovery from that. We had many, many years of high poverty. And it just took a really long time to get the jobs back.

During COVID, the only explanation I have is some folks on the left and on the right have been thinking differently about things. And also, I think that sort of the crisis, of the public health crisis, that really brought us together in a way, for a short period of time, at least, that hadn’t in the past, we took a very different approach. We took really broadbased type approaches, like the economic impact payment, where we said, we’re going to do the exact same thing for pretty much everybody, all low income families, all middle class families. We’re going to expand unemployment insurance. So, that’s an example that program isn’t really effective for people who are in low wage jobs a lot of the times, they don’t meet the eligibility requirements. And during COVID, we did away with that. And we said, we’re going to try to create a path where everybody can come in. And the results have been astounding.

So, we had no increase in people, you know, according to official statistics, there are lots of people who’ve been in crisis. And I want to make that clear. But when we look at the 2019, and 2020, and 2021, there was no increase in the number of people reporting they couldn’t put food on the table. And that’s astounding. Because during the last recession it skyrocketed, right? There was actually a drop in poverty, in the best ways we know how to measure it. Because of that money coming in the door.

And then here’s my favorite fact, right now, the number of Americans with bad credit fell to a 16-year low. And maybe it’s even longer than that. That’s just as far back as we have data. So, there are fewer people in 2021, who have a bad credit report than ever before. And that’s a result of the fact that when the government sort of engaged in giving families money, they tended to spend it on things like their rent, and their utilities, and their grocery bill. And they made themselves better off. So, we have fewer people behind on their mortgages. People pay down their credit card debt. So, I think that’s one piece of the puzzle.

And the Child Tax Credit, it’s probably the thing that we could bring along with us in the future. We’re not going to do stimulus checks, I think, on a regular basis. But the child tax credit was this modest cash transfer we would call $250 per kid that happened in the second half of last year. And the researcher is really looking quite good. I happen to be a part of the group that sort of built the, you know, was a part of shaping the idea for many years. We thought it was, you know, pie in the sky many years ago. And then it became a reality. And when it became a reality of saying raising kids is expensive for all low and middle income families, we’re going to do this small $250 per kid per month. We saw child poverty plummet. We saw food insecurity plummet. We saw no impact on work whatsoever. A lot of people thought that if you give people money, they are not going to work. There was no impact. No discernible impact. That is something that we can move forward.

I think when government does things that it should keep it simple, often empower families, and it should try to treat families the same. So, rather not saying we are going to do this thing for poor families, this thing for middle income families, do the same thing for everyone. And that also proves to be more politically popular.

Another space that I think we can be a doing a lot more about are the things that we shouldn’t be doing anymore. So, if I just give you a few examples, over the last couple of decades, states have been reluctant to raise their income taxes. So, they’ve been increasing their fines and fees. You know, if you get a speeding ticket, it costs a lot more than it used to. If you are driving without auto insurance, which by the way can be pretty expensive, right? That tickets a lot more than it used to be. And then we suspend people’s licenses in a lot of places. And that really has the impact of catching people in what I call a structural cycle of poverty, where I don’t pay my auto insurance, but I got to go to my job or I’m going to lose my house. So, I drive that one day without it, I get pulled over, I get a huge ticket that I can’t afford, because I couldn’t afford my auto insurance to begin with. And then you suspend my license. And then I definitely lose my job. So, we need to figure out how do we address those things. And so, my call to people is to think, you know, we tend to think like some things are poverty issues, and then there’s everything else. That everything else often affects families who are in poverty, too. So, what are the things that we can change in our communities that makes systems work better? Maybe we can stop charging people quite as much for tickets or giving them another path? What about, you know, legal fees? Like how can we reduce the cost of legal counsel so that families are better protected, right? Or don’t get caught up in huge costs there.

What about healthcare? How do we reduce the cost of healthcare? So, there are things that we can be doing and things that we really need to think about, how do we do it differently in a fundamental way. I hope that can be really empowering. I think there is something everyday that someone, pretty much any level, at your school, Church, that you can do to make a system work better for families that are struggling.


Rob: Yet, on the other side of perhaps this conversation, there are people who are wondering about de-incentivizing hard work, what we used to call bootstrapping. In other words, how you pull your– We don’t want so many giveaways, so much intervention from the state such that it de-incentivizes the individual to get up early, work hard, and make a way. What do you say to folks who are really concerned about that?

Luke: Well, I think there’s a place for them in that sort of second bucket of what should we stop doing? One great example, so we were looking in the city of Detroit, there’s huge amounts of debate in the city where we’re really trying to figure out, how do we help connect Detroiters to jobs? How do we help increase success? And there is an interpretation of that where, you know, people say, oh, you know, folks don’t want to work. I’ve been on the ground, and I think there might always be people like that. But more so, you can look at the structural issues, right? It turns out a lot of the jobs are in the suburbs. And we’ve never been built sort of any reliable public transportation that can help Detroiters to get to the suburbs.

Another thing that really struck me, we scraped all of the job postings, from jobs that are available, you know, there’s often people saying, oh, there’s all these jobs available. And there’s some truth to that, you know, at certain points in the economic cycle. But it turns out, like a quarter of those jobs require some form of occupational licensure. So, when we dig into that, to get that occupational license, you often have to go to a training program that’s an hour away, right? Or you often have to spend $500, to take a licensing exam. And $500 is a lot. So, that’s where I would really encourage people, I think that’s where the bang for our buck is.

And then on the giveaways, that’s partially why I think we should try to keep things simple and do more, where we are treating more people similarly.

So, Milton Friedman famously said, you know, when you give food assistance, rather than giving cash. Or let’s say, work requirements in place, that’s big government, right? It takes a lot of government work to make a work requirement that is going to work well. Otherwise, people just shut off the roles. And if you believe there is no hardship out there, maybe that’s okay. But there is a lot of hardship out there. If you want a work requirement that really works for people, you have to be willing to spend big. And it’s a lot easier to say, you know what, let’s take the simpler approach. Let’s provide the same benefit. Let’s not spend a lot of time trying to figure out if people are eligible and treat people similarly. And the other impact is that the programs that we’ve had in the past, they climb as your earnings go up. That does really create a dis-incentive to work. So, an approach that folds more people in like the Child Tax Credit, it has a benefit saying we are going to provide you that small amount of stability, but we’re not going to stand in your way as you do right by your families, which is the vast majority of families want to do. 

Rob: You know, we had Jonathan Reckford on, as I’ve said, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity. He shared with me a personal letter from Clarence Jordan to the Friends of the Koinonia Farm, and it was 1968. So, let’s listen to what he said.

He said, “What the poor need is not charity, but capital. Not caseworkers, but coworkers. And what the rich need is a wise, honorable, and just way of divesting themselves of their overabundance.” And I guess that’s the last part of our conversation. We can talk a lot about what the poor need to do and certainly there is work to do. And we can talk about what government needs to do and clearly we need to bring more imagination to some of our solutions and run some experiments on how we can make life better for our neighbors who happen to be at the bottom of the socio-economic rungs. But Jesus had a lot to say about the rich divesting themselves out of their overabundance. And that is the third rail in America. It is to talk about, you know, what the rich can do? Personally, those of us like myself, for instance, who by the grace of God, I call it by grit and grace have a few extra dollars laying around. You know, talk a little bit about that side of the equation. Maybe that doesn’t come up in your work, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on what Jordan says is the honorable way of divesting oneself of overabundance.

Luke: Well, starting out, I really love the coworker versus caseworker. And I just think that the more that we can think about how we do as being in relationship like that, right? Being a partner and going into that work ready to learn about what the world is like and then try to do something about it. The next time, a listener may go to a food pantry to help and do charity work. I encourage them to sort of get out from behind the table, where the bags are, or where the food is, and have a conversation. Learn about what has been going on in the life of someone who is there to get help. And then, think about all the sort of forces in society that have had an impact on that person’s life and what we might do differently.

On the second part of dis-investing wealth, boy, you know, I think like you. I like grit and grace. I think– I don’t like to say that a lot of times people who have more, some have gotten it because they have inherited it or had advantages, right? But there is a lot of hard work there too a lot of the time. So, trying to figure out what is that balance, sometimes I feel like Jesus could have given us a little bit more to go on for that, you know, honestly. I think he left us hanging a little bit.

I think trying to grapple with, how much is too much? Right? How much is too much in what we as a society can do? That we can sort of agree on to bring some of that into balance? That is the big question that I don’t totally have the answers too. But I think we need to figure that out in both a more equal society and secondly, I think we need to figure it out for the environment. Driven by my 12-year-old daughter, I am starting to grapple with climate change in a serious way. I sort of always thought that, you know, my thing was poverty and I was going to let someone else figure out climate change. But recently, I have been trying to figure out like, I need to live, I need to be a better steward. We are really looking into what it would look like to put solar panels on our house. This would be a stretch for us. But I like to think that maybe it’s something that I’m trying to use some of the financial blessings that we have to change my impact on the world for both, you know, bringing our economic community more into balance and reducing my actual impact on the world to be a better steward of this Earth.

Rob: I think you’ve answered and asked your own questions in some ways. Yeah, we’d love a little bit more information from Jesus. But he does leave us with this notation of stewardship. And he does leave us with this notion of relationship. And he does say, you know, where your treasure is, there is also your heart. And you know, what I love about Jesus is that there is no browbeating, no guilt, or shame. But he is naming the work. He has left it in our hand.

Well, this has been fantastic. And I think you’ve given us a lot to think about. Tell us the name of your book and where we can find it?

Luke: Yeah. It’s called $2.00 a Day, Living on Almost Nothing in America. It’s a book that I co-wrote with Kathy Eden, who is now at Princeton. You can find it online, you can find it at Barnes and Nobles. If they don’t have it, you can do me a favor by telling them to get a few copies for the store.

Rob: Sure.

Luke: Yeah. We have a new book actually in the works. In a year’s time, we are writing a book about some of America’s poorest places. So, we’ve been getting to know a handful of communities in Appalachia, in the Mississippi Delta, and in South Texas. And so, our first book was about very poor families. This will be about very poor communities. Maybe people can check it out.

Rob: Professor Luke Shaefer, thanks so much for being with us.

Luke: It was really my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

Rob: Yeah, God bless.


Si somos una familia estadounidense hermosa y compleja, como creo que somos, entonces las celebraciones del Orgullo (Pride) y Juneteenth este mes nos pertenecen a todos. ¿Cómo no alegrarme especialmente cuando un miembro de la familia anteriormente relegado a las sombras de la vida ahora es bienvenido bajo el cálido sol de visibilidad y afirmación? Cuando era niño, recuerdo que mi madre afroamericana usaba un botón que decía “bésame soy Irlandesa” en la celebración del Día de San Patricio. Mi hermana y yo pensamos que ella era peculiar por asumir esto, pero creo que ¡ella era ingeniosa! No me disminullo al celebrarte en toda tu maravilla particular. Curiosamente, mi dignidad se enancha al afirmar tu dignidad. Y, mi dignidad se disipa a medida que yo, por omisión o comisión, participo en tú disminución. Y por esto te digo, Feliz Orgullo (Happy Pride), Juneteenth y Día del Padre y mil celebraciones más también. Dios se regocija cuando celebramos la verdad, que fuimos hechos el uno para el otro y para la gloria de Dios. “Qué bueno y qué agradable es para los hermanos y hermanas vivir juntos en unidad”.

Efesios 6:13