My internship has ended at Responsible Wealth, a project of United for a Fair Economy, and I am excited to share what I have gained from this experience? Let’s start with what I hoped I would have to show for it. As I stated in my very first blog post in June: “Through this internship I hope to gain a greater understanding of various aspects of inequality, including racial, gender, and economic inequality, and how to address them.” In my second blog post in July, I described how I was coming along in these learning goals such as messaging to an audience via Twitter (@resp_wealth) and conducting informational interviews with current and past members of the organization gauge ways we can get them more involved (I even got a few to renew their memberships). This latter project enabled me to become exposed to additional aspects of inequality through the knowledge and expertise of members as well as to understand how to mobilize people to correct it.
Of course, while there are many ways to be involved in promoting change, I was mostly involved in trying to get information out. Another way I contributed to this educational aspect was by creating a (well researched) fact sheet about Social Security entitled, “Understanding Social Security: Who Benefits, Who Pays, and Possibilities for Change”, which is now on United for a Fair Economy’s website. It shows how people in the top 5% pay a lower percentage of their income toward Social Security than the bottom 95%, and how through correcting the regressiveness of payroll taxes, we can avoid cuts to Social Security benefits that will occur in 2033 if nothing is done to raise more revenue.
While I learned a lot about inequality in the United States, and how to educate people about this inequality, this experience also reinforced that there is so much left to learn. During my last year at Brandeis I will be paying special attention to how economic, social, and political policies and trends that my classes are addressing contribute to aspects of equality and inequality amongst those in the US and around the world. Ultimately, I hope to understand what types of inequality are acceptable or necessary (this going along the lines of the ‘people need incentive to succeed’ argument) as well as which types create injustice and which should be corrected. After graduation, I hope to continue learning about these topics while also becoming more involved in righting the wrongs that I have come to see in them. I (hopefully) will be going to law school, and am specifically interested in learning how to address unjust inequality as a lawyer.
To relate this directly to social justice (as I am a recipient of the Social Justice WOW), this internship has definitely strengthened my will to work toward achieving social justice for everyone, as it gave me a greater understanding for the scale of injustice in the U.S. (not to mention the rest of the world) as well as awareness of how many inspirational people there are working to create change. While this internship focused on economic justice, economics never stands alone outside other forces, and this experience helped me better understand how economic, social, racial, political and cultural justice, and injustice, intersect.
Hearing about injustice used to just make me angry, and I now better understand how to channel that emotion into productive change. I also know how to step back and learn all the facts before I let emotion get the better of me.
But enough about me. What about you? If any of you out there are interested in United for a Fair Economy/Responsible Wealth, or the field of economic inequality in general, let me give you some advice. First, I would highly recommend this internship to anyone interested in any of the topics mentioned above. Everyone who works there is really great, and they want to make sure students get the most they can out of internships. Don’t be afraid to make sure your supervisor understands what you are interested in and want to work on. Of course we all have to do the occasional boring office task, but the more passionate you are about the topic you are working on, the better work you are likely to do. As for advice about the field, a lot of people want economics to be a hard, as opposed to social, science: more like chemistry than sociology. But there are countless economic theories out there, and economics cannot be separated from other social forces. Don’t take any preconceived notions about the way the economy works as fact. Take the time to examine the topic from a range of lenses and points of view – current and historic. And of course, don’t just look at all this from an academic standpoint. Get involved.
If you are interested in reading more on this topic, CNN is putting together a list of “must reads” on income inequality. Check out the suggestions, and add your own!