2012 High School Essay Contest Honorable Mention Winners

In addition to the grand prize, national honorable mention prizes were awarded to Caleb Derstine of Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite High School, Natalie Miller of Freeman (S.D.) Academy and Peter Schrock of Bethany Christian High School (Goshen, Ind.). The annual Washington Office essay contest highlights the perspectives of youth on significant public policy issues and promotes the involvement of young people in faithful witness to government authorities. Topics for this year’s contest included global poverty; the wealth gap in the U.S.; domestic violence; and faith, values and voting. Excerpts from the honorable mention essays can be found after the break.

The Wealth Gap in the U.S.

By Caleb Derstine

In the economic recession that started in 2007, the wealth gap took a huge jump, resulting in the top 20% of Americans owning about 85% of the wealth (Inskeep). During the recession a substantial amount of money was absorbed by the wealthy because they own and control money and stocks. The wealthy became wealthier and the poor became poorer. The middle class diminished significantly because companies were doing badly and they had to freeze the employees’ salaries or fire them. Therefore, the size of the middle class decreased because people had less wealth.

Another wealth gap issue is the big difference in wealth between ethnic groups. A Pew Research analysis shows that the bursting of the housing market bubble in 2006 and the recession that followed had a greater effect on African Americans than it did on Caucasians.  Now Caucasians own double the amount of wealth than Hispanics and African Americans combined. The gap between Caucasians, Hispanics, and African Americans is mostly because the Caucasians have a bigger net worth, which is the value of everything you own and owe, than Hispanics or African Americans. According to a recent study, around one in every four Black families has no assets. The same study states that a decrease in wealth for African Americans means they depend on credit and other forms of high-cost debt more frequently. While middle-income Caucasians had increasing salaries, middle-income African American salaries were dropping in the last couple of decades (Taylor).

The American Plutocracy

By Peter Schrock

Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, argues that the Great Recession was caused by income inequality. He argues that the poor and middle classes lacked the purchasing power necessary to keep the economy rolling. The only reason the collapse did not happen sooner was because of increased consumer debt; largely credit card debt and risky refinancing of mortgages. This very reason is why Americans were oblivious in the Norton and Ariely study shown above. Meanwhile, the rich needed somewhere to store their ever increasing supply of money. As a result, the demand for assets like stocks and bonds increased, creating a stock market bubble. So assets went up, but actual production and purchasing decreased. After the economy stumbled, workers were laid off, further exacerbating the problem.

This is not the first time wealth inequality has devastated the American economy. 1928 and 2007 were the two most unequal years of the last century. The Great Depression and the Great Recession followed swiftly and mercilessly (Reich).

Somehow, as a society, we have collectively decided that corporations are people too. We bail them out – all while complaining about actual people who receive welfare. We have deregulated the financial sector while simultaneously bailing them out. The banks should either be allowed to fall flat on their faces or be heavily regulated to protect consumers and the banks themselves. Corporations are not people, they are tools.

Called to Love the Stranger

By Natalie Miller

The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA), enacted in 1984, exists to aid victims of domestic violence. This is the largest emergency source for victims of domestic violence, as well as their children. FVPSA funds emergency shelters, counseling, crisis lines, and victim assistance. One of the great things about this service act is that victims are not required to show legal status. Unfortunately, over a quarter million victims were turned away from local programs due to a lack of available resources in 2004. Because the success of outreach programs and anti-violence education has increased the number of victims who seek help, the demand for FVPSA programs has become greater. This act is currently under-funded and in need of updates. It is essential that Congress fully subsidize it in order for victims to continue to receive resources (National Coalition Against Domestic Abuse).

Christians are called to love the stranger.   The book of Leviticus in the Bible illustrates this: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do the stranger wrong. The Stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love the neighbor as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (NIV Bible, Lev. 19.33-34).  Failing to address the needs of any individual, regardless of whether they are undocumented or not, is failing to love the stranger as yourself. Since our country has legal provisions that protect American natives suffering from domestic abuse, then we need to reauthorize the legal provisions so they protect the undocumented immigrants to the same extent. Making sure no one has to suffer violence in silence must be the main priority of all people.

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