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Are we rich if we don't feed the poor?

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The unseen contrast is sharp. Every workday morning, some of the nation's richest corporate executives and Wall Street financiers ride in trains or cars through poorer parts of New York to their Manhattan offices.

There, in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, or upper Manhattan, mostly volunteers offer some 250,000 free meals per day from church and synagogue basements or community centers. They serve 1.2 million people a year, some 350,000 of them children.

Last year, more than 1,200 New York soup kitchens and food pantries distributed about 67 million pounds of food to the city's poor and sometimes hungry. That's up 50 percent in five years.

As the incomes of the richest 1 percent of Americans have been rising spectacularly, the Food Bank for New York City has been nearly "flat funded" by city, state, and federal programs for almost 10 years, complains vice president Aine Duggan. The result has been less government money after inflation – and some people leaving food banks still hungry.

"We are not always able to serve all those standing in line," says Ms. Duggan.

Meanwhile, the average chief executive officer at a large American firm last year got 411 times an average US worker's pay, up from 107 times in 1990.

Each CEO should look in the mirror every morning and ask about his or her "personal responsibility and integrity," says Travis Hale, coauthor of a study on US income distribution.

A doctoral student in economics at the University of Texas at Austin, Mr. Hale dislikes the attitude that, "I've got mine, and I deserve it – and good luck to the rest of you." Reducing inequality of incomes is "not a matter of just growing the pie. It is a matter of splitting it up more equally," he adds. "If the economic growth of the last 40 years had been shared more equitably, we could now have a country where very few persons are poor."


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