Monday, January 16, 2017

The Working Catholic: Family Stability, Part III By Bill Droel and John Erb

In this and previous installments on this blog site we attempt to put a small frame around the expansive topic of family stability. We now come to a controversial juncture.

The Lifestyle Variable

Income parallels family stability. Family stability parallels lifestyle. That is, some lifestyles are more conducive to family stability than others. It is important to repeat that the relationship among these three factors (money, lifestyle and stability) plus other factors is not an easy cause-and-effect. That is, we cannot say that because there is a strong association between a specific lifestyle and stability, a change in lifestyle automatically causes more stability or less stability.

Further, we recognize that people do not wake up each morning and choose a lifestyle. It is like one’s spirituality. Despite what the self-help gurus imply, one’s spirituality is to a significant degree conditioned by one’s heritage, by the surrounding culture and by many experiences. A lifestyle too is in part an imitation or rejection of one’s parental example, an imitation or rejection of one’s cultural environment and a continuation of or break with one’s many experiences.

And finally—because this is controversial—this essay does not measure love; as if anyone can do so. All types of families cherish their members and love their children. Just as sadly, all types and income levels of families are capable of callousness; a parent in any income bracket can be distant from his or her children.

Family living arrangements or lifestyles can include a two-parent married family, two-parent non-married family, one-parent family with one partner for that parent, one-parent family with multiple partners for the parent and more. Upper economic class families, for the most part, are of the two-parent married type and, as this essay shows, those families are relatively stable over the years. The median income for one of these married-couple families, presuming each parent is employed at least part-time, is $104,000. Many families in the lower economic categories are likely to be two-parent non-married families or one-parent families. These families have greater degree and duration of instability.

Interestingly, the education gap is a mirror image of this family stability index. In excess of 90% of college graduates use the institution of marriage and those families tend to be relatively stable. Those who lack a degree do not always marry. These families have higher instability.

The non-married type of lifestyle has been increasing. In fact, last year the majority of living arrangements in the United States were between unmarried couples. Interestingly too, there is no longer a race gap when it comes to marriage. That is, white families now have a percentage of non-married or single heads of the household that approximates the percentage among black families.

And as our chart to follow will show, a clear majority of Americans are economically stressed.

A Political Variable; Maybe Not

Pundits incessantly speak and write about a polarized citizenry. Our chart provides strong basis for a proposition that the polarization is not so much driven by cultural philosophies, as it is by economic insecurity. The number of Americans who are economically stressed continues to grow. Outsider political candidates will continue to appeal to the economically stressed. Yet, so-called Beltway insiders and many pundits dismiss these outsider challengers. That is because they are not really in touch with the financial realities facing a majority of Americans.

To repeat once more: Our chart (in the next installment of this series) shows that economic stress visits the majority of families—sometimes almost constantly.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Working Catholic: Family Stability By Bill Droel and John Erb

Part II
In a series of essays on this blog site we examine the factors that determine family stability or instability, which as we previously wrote, are namely income and a few socio-cultural trends. We stress that these factors do not form a neat equation nor does one of the factors necessarily cause another; simply that a few stability factors parallel one another.

The Geography Variable

First, wages and cost of living vary from state-to-state, from region-to-region. New York City is, for example, higher income and higher cost; Mississippi or Alabama is lower income and lower cost. To have a top 1% income in the New York City region requires nearly $1.4million annual (much higher for the top 1/10th%). Meanwhile, an annual income of about $100,000 equals top 1% in parts of Mississippi and Alabama.

Second, higher income families are concentrated within specific metropolitan areas and specific areas of a state. So too, lower income families are concentrated within certain city neighborhoods, certain rural areas or certain state regions. In the mythological Lake Wobegon Chatterbox CafĂ©, an unemployed farmhand can sit at a table with the town banker. That is unlikely anywhere else. Higher income people do not share the same space as middle income or lower income people—not even at the football stadium, or the airport, or at church.

Third, some commentators refer to cultural/political geography. They mean our country can be divided (or color-coded) into, on one hand, East Coast and West Coast and, on the other hand, Middle America. This essay and its accompanying income chart imply that such geographical politics is metaphorical at best. Our important concern is stability for the majority of families—East Coast, West Coast and Middle America.

The Education Variable

Prior to 1980 young adults in our country were adequately educated to meet the needs of the marketplace. That is, a sufficient number had sufficient education in the trades, accounting, secretarial skills, engineering and more. Since 1980 the needs of employers have steadily outpaced educational attainment. Thus, as is often said today, a college degree is a necessity. The word degree is crucial.

With individual exceptions, income strongly parallels a college degree: Those who have a degree also have some family security and a modicum of upward mobility. Those without a degree more likely experience instability and remain stuck at their family’s income level. 
There are two related points to make about a college degree and income.

First, those young adults whose parents hold a degree are more likely to attend college than other young adults and they are much more likely to complete college. A young adult whose parents did not complete college is not as likely to enroll in college or once enrolled is more likely to drop out. Mentioning this college degree gap feels un-American because education is thought to be an economic leveler. A young adult who studies and works hard can, the theory says, do better economically than the previous generation. According to the American promise, no one is condemned to their parents’ income level. Unfortunately, this promising theory has not been the reality. Those born between 1960 and 1980 have, on average, a 60% chance of exceeding their parents’ income. Those born after 1980 have, on average, a 50% chance of ever exceeding their parents.

The second related point tells us that not all college degrees are equal. About 8% of those billionaires who hold a U.S. passport also have a Harvard University degree. Other Ivy League schools account for a similar percentage of billionaires. The remaining top 10% in income also hold degrees from Ivy League or major state colleges or in fewer cases from one of the well-known Catholic colleges. On the next step down, that of an aspiring upper-middle class family, the student’s degree comes from a Catholic college or a less prestigious state school; followed by other schools, public and private.

A quick digression about dropping out of college: In a public, four-year college about 60% obtain a degree within six years; about 40% have dropped out. In a private, four-year college the graduation rate is about 65% within six years; about 35% never finish.

A community college can be a start, but the full bachelor’s degree is the factor that parallels a better income. In Illinois, to take one example, only about 21% of community college students complete a program there within three years. Of those who begin at a community college only about 15% go on to a bachelor’s degree within six to eight years.

Why do students drop out? Tuition becomes too expensive; the tension between studies and a job becomes unmanageable; someone in the family is ill; the student or spouse loses a job; a baby is born. As significantly, though not as frequently discussed, is a student’s lack of confidence in study habits like perseverance, curiosity, concentration, resourcefulness, creativity and more. They are unprepared to take apart a textbook, to know what is important in class and what is not so important, to write paragraphs that flow one from the other, to stick with a problem, to manage time knowing when to take overtime on the job and when to concentrate on school. Rather than confidently finding help with their studies, too many students drift away.

To be continued…

Monday, January 2, 2017

Patty Crowley - Lay Pioneer (1913–2005) by William Droel

Comment by Bill Lange

This forty-two page booklet is an excellent tool for discussion and for discerning the role for the laity in these dark times.  Patty Crowley, a Roman Catholic, was the co-founder of the Christian Family Movement (CFM) with her husband Pat. This is an account of the 'run-up' to Vatican II in Chicago and the post Vatican II 'burn out'. 

This short story of Patty's life has something in it for all faith groups doing organizing for social justice action.

Some quotes from the booklet:

“The birth control issue has ‘escalated into a position far beyond its importance.  War, peace, poverty and social justice seem more urgent … to Christ in the world.’”  Patty Crowley p. 24

“Patty likewise anticipated Vatican II’s emphasis on autonomous lay leadership as she considered relationship to the Chancery.” p. 29

 CFM analysis was inspired by the Cardijn movement in Europe; the mantra was experience based – observe, judge, and act. p. 6.

The Communion hymn for Patty’s funeral intoned – “CFM – emerges. Amen.”  “To spread a simple notion. Amen.”  “Observe, Judge and Act. Amen.” P.4
“In keeping with Vatican II theology, Christians who tackle social problems should ordinarily cooperate ecumenically.” “The Crowley’s understood this kind of practical ecumenism.”  p. 30

“In the summer of 1960 she (Patty Crowley) started a Democratic Women’s Club in Wilmette to promote the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy.” p. 33.

This booklet can be ordered from the National Center for the Laity, P.O. Box 291102, Chicago, IL  60629 for a nominal donation.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Working Catholic: Gaps, Part One by Bill Droel and John Erb

For some time now, we have thought about the meaning of income levels in our society. Our main point in this essay is not so much the preciseness of the numbers, although we consulted several sources. This multi-part essay is one attempt to put lots of discussion into one format. In our professional settings (a financial advisor’s office and a community college) and in informal conversations, we sense that most of us have only a vague notion of economic realities in our country. Despite comprehensive books about inequality, despite newspaper articles about factory closings or about new business ventures, despite national political campaigns, most of us are fuzzy about how our situation compares with others and about our own prospects for economic stability and about the reliability of our economy’s promise: “Hard work will be rewarded.”

In normal conversations people do not speak too specifically about their income. Even in those situations where personal income is revealed, many people lack an up to date perspective on how their family compares to others. For example, $85,000 per year was once considered a good income, but for most Americans today this amount is often not enough to dispel economic stress.

Does our $85,000 income example include a pension or a retirement account? Probably not, because as each year goes by many more families have no guaranteed pension. That means families who deserve a secure retirement have to dedicate about 15% of earnings toward retirement savings. Social security benefits, under both Democrats and Republicans, have been reduced, and continue to trend in that direction. Thus, an individual’s own savings becomes more important for security in retirement.

In addition to concern about retirement, our $85,000 family is likely stressed these days because of health care insurance. There has been a 25% increase in insurance cost over the last five years for the middle class, even though the insurance mechanisms have supposedly been reformed.

And finally, there is college education for this family. Its cost was not proportionately a big part of a family’s budget even 20 years ago.

So, if a seemingly secure family is budgeting for retirement in a responsible way, has adequate health care insurance and is saving for college, there is not much left over on an $85,000 income.

The Gaps

It is true that the overall U.S. economy has doubled within the past 35 years. It is true that the average income has increased. The income gap, however, is growing. When it comes to income increase, 70% of it now goes to those in the top 10% of income. More dramatically, the top 1/10% is gaining income far ahead of all others, including the next top 4.9%.

For half of all U.S. families, their share of the growing economy has shrunk significantly. This bottom 50% of families earns 12.5% of the country’s total income. The top 1% in income actually gets 20% of the total income in our country.

In addition to an income gap there are parallel social gaps. We stress that there is not an easy cause-effect relationship between these other gaps and the income gaps. That is, it is wrong to say that if every family changed their behavior on this-or-that, those families would increase their income. Or that if somehow a family would simply move from here to there, that family would increase its income. It is wrong to say that if only government had this social policy instead of that social policy, families would get with it and they would improve their income.

Nonetheless, some social and cultural gaps strongly parallel income gaps. Specifically, there is general correspondence (though not hard cause-and-effect) between income and one’s geography, one’s cultural setting, one’s educational level and one’s family stability. 

To be continued…

Monday, December 19, 2016


For a tree there is hope, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again and that its tender shoots will not cease.  Even though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump die in the dust, yet at the first whiff of water it may flourish again and put forth branches like a young plant.  (Job 14: 7-10)

From the beginning 'till now the entire creation as we know it, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth and not only all creation but all of us ... for we must be content to hope that we shall be saved.  Our salvation is not in sight. we should not be hoping for it as if it were - but we must hope to be saved since we are not saved yet ...  (Paul, Romans: 8: 18-35)

And remember Job when he cried to his Lord, "Truly distress has seized me, but You are the Most Merciful of those that are merciful."  (Qur'an 21:83

From the bloggers - Bill & Joanne Lange & Bill Droel 

Monday, December 5, 2016


    In his farewell address President Ronald Reagan saw the U.S. as a New Jerusalem, the shining city upon a hill.  The reference for the president’s patriotic speech was biblical.  (See Mt. 5:14, Rev. 21:21) Reagan’s carefully crafted, sanctimonious American image still remains, but Reagan and U.S. responsibility for massive killings of indigenous people in the Central American civil wars have been quickly forgotten.  (200,000 civilians killed in Guatemala - never publicized)

   The Reagan legacy continues with Trump; only the bigotry, nationalism and militarism are out in the open with a deluge of threats and unapologetic vile rhetoric.  With the ground of U.S. Democracy flooded with hate, where do we establish our roots?

   Let us consider some thoughts of three courageous women during the time of the Second World War.  A summary of their work can be found in the book, Three Women in Dark Times, Cornell University Press, 2000, Ithaca, NY by Sylvie Courtine-Denamy.  All references in this article are to Courtine-Denamy’s book.

   The three women, Simon Weil (1909 – 1943) Edith Stein (1891 – 1942) and Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975), were recognized as outstanding philosophers in their own time. Simone Weil finished first   in a Sorbonne general examination on philosophy ahead of notables Merleau–Ponty and Simone de Bouvoir. 

   The Three Women of Dark Times addresses the horrible events and politics of their era with courage and wisdom.  Weil and Stein had an idealistic approach and Arendt a pragmatic and existential vision. The women were from Jewish families. 

SIMON WEIL 1909 - 1943

   Weil addressed the problem of “up-rootedness” by trying to establish a “universal” identity.  She worked in factories and did farm labor to experience the alienation of the worker.  She became mal-nourished because others did not have a sufficient diet.  Simone Weil was hostile to Judaism in her attempt to be above race.  Jewish scholars, Martin Buber and Levinas “underscore not only Weil’s profound misunderstanding of the Jewish religion but also her unfair treatment of it.” (143)

   Weil warned that the rootlessness of our time tempts people to “belong unconditionally to a totalitarian system which gives them a solid illusion of inward unity.” (p. 142) She explained:

God’s children should love no fatherland short of the universe as a whole…one must uproot one’s self and have no native land… One can only be rooted in the absence of a definite place. (pp. 43-44)   

Simone Weil tended toward pacifism, but opposed Hitler and fascism to the extent that she volunteered for the Spanish Republican Army to fight Franco in Spain’s Civil War.  She died in England in 1943 of tuberculosis refusing to take nourishment.  Weil, although close to Roman Catholicism, never requested baptism and maintained her “universal” identity.

EDITH STIEN 1891 - 1942

   Edith Stein was a student and assistant to the founder of the philosophical method of Phenomenology, Edmund Husserl.  She broke with Husserl over her Ph.D. dissertation on Empathy – Einfuhlung translated by a German professor as, “to feel into the feeling of another.”

   Was Stein’s “Empathy” opposed to Weil’s “Universalism”?

    In 1922 Edith Stein converted to the Roman Catholicism.  She saw faith and Thomistic Theology as the necessary confirmation for her philosophy.  She never renounced her Jewish heritage but joined the Carmelite order of nuns in 1933.  She took the name Benedicta of the Cross.  In 1938 Edith Stein as Sister Benedicta of the Cross wrote a letter to Pope Pius XI asking for an Encyclical to defend the Jews.  She never received an answer and the Encyclical was never written. 

   Her roots were in the Great Commandment of the Jewish Law, ‘Love God and love your neighbor as yourself including the stranger,’ (Dt. 6:3, Lv. 19:18, 33) however she expressed it as a Christian.  She wrote, “For the Christian there is no such thing as a ‘stranger.’  There is only the neighbor, the person next to us, the person most in need of our help.” (p. 205)

   Because she was Jewish she was executed by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1942.  Edith Stein was declared a Saint in 1998 by Pope John Paul II.

HANNAH ARENDT 1906 - 1975 
   Hannah Arendt was an associate of Martin Heidegger, one of the first and most renowned of the Existentialists.  However, she could not give him a pass on his association with the Nazis.

    Arendt agreed with Husserl that philosophy begins with the consciousness of the person, but this did not lead her into the idealism of Stein and or even that of Husserl and Heidegger.  Action was crucial for her. She recounts a story of her childhood.  She told her Rabbi that she feared that she had lost her faith.  “Who is asking for it?” he replied.  Jewish scholar Emmanuel Levinas commented, “What the Rabbi meant was - doing good is the act of faith in itself.” (p. 205) Arendt saw that action springs from humane loving friendship in an in-human world.  Friends board an Ark like Noah and collaborate in action with those floating in companion Arks. (pp. 209-210)  Hannah Arendt escaped to the United States in 1933.  She believed strongly in the U.S. Constitution.

     The three women, Simone Weil, Edith Stein, and Hannah Arendt did not curse their fate for having to live in the “Dark Times” of the 20th century.  They not only accepted their fate, they loved it.  A subtitle of the book, Three Women in Dark Times is ‘Amor fati – amor mundi’   they loved their fate – they loved the world. (pp. 41- 52, 219-221)

A challenge of the prophet Micah is brought to mind. 

 Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly, and walk   humbly with your God.  (Mi, 6:8)

   The three women responded with classical philosophical writing to help in understanding a time which defies understanding.  The universalism of Weil, the empathy of Stein, and the dedication to action of Arendt are only a tiny piece of their philosophical work, but an important aid to understanding and acting in our own dark times.      

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Working Catholic: Division within the Church by Bill Droel

The internal battles are the hardest. The particulars of an internal dispute quickly seem inconsequential but the long term stakes can be significant. For example, during the four years prior to its 1972 convention, the credentials committee of the Democratic National Committee wrangled over delegate seating. The eventual decisions shifted the focus of electoral politics in this country.

The recent Catholic bishops’ Synod on the Family provides a second example. For nearly three years the Synod process was given to debate on relatively obscure rules regarding divorced Catholics and the Eucharist—as if no other issues were of crucial importance to family life. And yet, the eventual outcome of this internal battle might have significance beyond its particulars.

Which brings us to a second observation about internal battles. They are often not about what they are about. This is always the case in polarized battle. “Polarization is not the same thing” as conflict, writes Holly Taylor Coolman of Providence College. Conflict, if conducted fairly, can be resolved satisfactorily. Polarization, by contrast, means two poles with no third or fourth option; no middle ground. Each pole increasingly turns inward, “demanding even purer and more total commitment,” explains Coolman in her contribution to Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church (Liturgical Press, 2016).

So for example, those who wage a polarized culture war over the serious matter of abortion are not really talking about abortion. For the culture warriors an entire worldview is at stake: the value of individualism, the autonomy of science, indeed the foundations of modernity.  Not everyone who engages the topic of abortion is an ideologue. Some thoughtful people, including those who use an objective moral method, are open to a middle position for the time being. However, someone who proposes the repeal of the Hyde Amendment is on a polarized crusade; no compromise is acceptable.

Which brings us to a third observation about internal battles—one with a twist. Even though a topic is serious, the majority is not invested in either pole on that topic.

The people who are leading the internal battles within U.S. Catholicism are older, Christian Smith of Notre Dame tells us in Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church. By contrast, “the vast majority” of those in their 20s or 30s “do not care that much.” Based on research, Smith says these young people “are not generally hostile to the church, not antagonistic or fundamentally dissenting. It is more a matter of general indifference.” This is something for Catholic leaders to ponder.

Mary Ellen Konieczny, one of three editors of Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church, says the same. “Only between 10 and 20% of the American public hold polar positions around most culture wars issues.” Further, “the culture wars debates are waged largely by elites.” And, to repeat Smith’s point, when it comes to Catholic topics, young adults are not among the 10% to 20% who battle the internal issues.

This twist presents a dilemma for U.S. Catholicism. The polar positions of those who battle over the status of divorced Catholics might represent something bigger. Those Catholic leaders who battle over gender requirements for legal marriages might be upholding valuable worldviews. But are these and other internal polar battles a distraction from the crucial project of attracting and retaining young adults in the faith? Is a both/and approach a fallacy—both attention to culture wars and attention to the young adult topics of work and relationships? Does Catholic polarization itself (on the left and right) cause thoughtful young adults (rightly or wrongly) to further disaffect from the faith?

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free newsletter