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The True Cost of Economic Injustice

Plants grow from stacked coins and a small paper house is by the coins
March 31, 2021

In order to make our society equitable, we must deconstruct how we view and approach the economy.

We live in a society of excess production and consumption. Profit is repeatedly prioritized over people. Many workplaces do not offer guaranteed paid sick time, which targets and harms women, BIPOC, and low-wage workers. Most fossil fuel companies destroy wildlife and harm marginalized communities, particularly Indigenous peoples. The current federal minimum wage keeps full-time workers below the poverty line in the United States. This unsustainable cycle cannot continue. In order to change our ways, we need to deconstruct how we view and approach the economy. 

Wealth inequity in the United States stems from a long history of discriminatory acts and policies that have created immense wealth and opportunity disparities. In the early 20th century, a significant shift in society started to view human beings as consumers first. This notion took hold in the United States during the 1920s when consumer goods changed drastically from luxuries to commonplace. Some of these effects were seen by many as improvements. For example, people with lower incomes in Global North countries could now afford to buy a variety of foods beyond cheap staples like bread and potatoes. People were able to buy tools and items to make life easier

However, this massive increase in consumerism led to an increase in unjust and unsafe working conditions. Women have contributed to economies since their inceptions, yet today are still not paid equal to their male counterparts. Increased consumption led the Global North to open factories in the Global South with inhuman working conditions and pay. These practices are still used today to produce a majority of goods consumed by people in Global North countries. Consumption has grown and in many cases, become out of control. Our rooms and houses are filled with objects and items, some of which are used daily and some which aren’t. Thrift stores and landfills alike are flooded with discarded items.

The constant cycle of buying and discarding is unsustainable. We live in a society that values the ownership of goods. This system manages to put a price tag on just about everything, including ethics. “Ethical consumerism,” however, can only be practiced by the privileged groups who can afford (and access) the more ethically produced and often more expensive products. 

The economical system we rely on makes ethical consumerism an individual responsibility. By focusing on individual consumer guilt and conscience, the system allows corporations to continue to profit at the expense of people and the planet. Corporations get a free pass and the burden to change falls on consumers. This is not an accident. Corporations wield this tactic and many others to make consumers believe that ethical consumption is the solution. However, this also perpetuates a system of constant consumption and waste. What we need to question is “where is the ethical production?”

Economic Justice
Economic justice promotes economic opportunities and advancement for all people and works to make our current system more equitable. 

Three major platforms support change: environmental justice, social justice, and economic justice. These three forms of justice interconnect and depend on each other. They also impact every issue we face today. 

Economic Injustices in Minnesota
Corporations and systems continue to uphold and increase economic injustice around the world, and many are supported by individuals. Today, many Minnesotans experience various forms of economic injustice created by our social, political, and economic systems. 

One of these injustices is homelessness. Homelessness results from capitalism, due to extreme income inequality that continues to increase in the United States and displaces people. Homelessness in Minnesota has increased 10% between 2015-2018. Additionally, older adults are impacted more, with a 25% increase of people 55 and older experiencing homelessness. Many of these people get turned away from shelters because they are full, and these people end up sleeping outside often in dangerous temperatures. 

Marginalized groups of people experience homelessness at much higher rates than privileged groups. Many people experiencing homelessness become homeless at a young age after experiencing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. Women and people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community who are homeless are more likely to have experienced physical and sexual violence than other identities. Additionally, many homeless people also have chronic health conditions and do not receive adequate care and resources to overcome barriers to finding and maintaining housing and jobs. To make Minnesota a more equitable state for all, we must recognize and dismantle these unjust systems to ensure that all people have access to shelter that is safe and provides protection. 

Pipelines can also contribute to increasing economic, environmental, and social disparities in Minnesota for minorities, particularly Indigenous women. Many Indigenous peoples and other communities in Minnesota are voicing concerns about developing pipelines in Minnesota. They argue that these pipelines often spill and harm the wildlife and communities around them. Supporters of these pipelines counter that they provide economic opportunities to Minnesotans.

However, most of these pipelines being developed bring in out-of-state laborers and don’t hire the number of Minnesotans they promised to. These out-of-state workers have no connection to this state and are paid well for their work. This often results in the workers polluting the “man camps” they temporarily live in and has led to increases in human trafficking. These workers target, kidnap, and abuse women, particularly Indigenous women. In Minnesota, men murder and harm Indigenous women at rates higher than any other population in the state, yet they constitute less than one percent of the state population.  

Various groups in Minnesota are targeted by the economic system we support. This system prioritizes profit more than the protection and prosperity of our land and our people. Large corporations must be held accountable for the degradation and destruction they create and support. Individually, we must decide our values and act on them. To change these systems of oppression, we must change how we view economic development and prosperity. 

Ignite Action 
One of the best ways to hold corporations accountable for ethical production is to vote for representatives who support adjacent policies. By voting in local, regional, and national elections, you can demand accountability from your politicians and their policies. 

You can also help change the cycles of consumerism, waste, and inequity by prioritizing the products you use. Take a look at your needs and wants to decide what you can live without, or what alternative solutions (like borrowing), can help get you access over ownership sometimes. Alongside individual actions, however, recognize your collective power and work to raise awareness of injustices in your community. 

There is not one overarching solution to make our economic system more just. Instead, small solutions created by communities and individuals can challenge inequitable policies and decisions. We must decide our values and act accordingly.