“Income equality. It’s an issue that a lot of folks have talked about for a long time … looking at the gap between living-wage work and non-living-wage work.”
That’s a statement that helped open the first film, “Inequality for All,” in a six-week series and panel discussion Friday at the Indiana Theater.
[PHOTO: James J. Nestor/Gazette photo]
“Forging Connections for Change,” the theme of the series, sponsored by the Center for Community Growth, aims to tackle issues and get cause-supporters to come together for change.
Each film in the series is accompanied by a panelist discussion, which, according to the center, “details what kind of action we can take as a community to strengthen the middle class both in Indiana County and nationally.”
About 100 people attended the screening, a large group of those in attendance Indiana University of Pennsylvania students.
“As far as the effects growing income equality has on the rest of the economy, across the world it does different things,” said Brandon Vick, panelist and economist in the IUP Department of Economics. “One thing we know, I can tell you, (is) what the economy’s been doing across the world. Worldwide, inequality is actually growing.”
The film, directed by Jacob Kornbluth, follows former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich as he looks to raise awareness of the country’s widening economic gap, according to the Internet Movie Database.
An important topic for Indiana County, the Center for Community Growth is bringing these movies to Indiana to foster community dialogue — “to pursue proactive solutions to problems in Indiana County,” said Gerald Smith, representing the center at the event.
The panelists discussed the history of inequality, with Dr. Jim Dougherty, director for the Center of Northern Appalachian Studies, taking the lead on that topic — income inequality, diversity inequality and other forms — as well as the income inequality that the county faces now.
“Income equality … I’d like to broaden out how I think of inequality,” Vick said. “A lot of it has to do with the institutions, the safety nets and social structures.”
He said that the ability to make your own decisions, to affect your government, the difference in your opportunities to get a good job all contribute to inequality.
Another part of inequality, according to panelist and nutritionist Dr. Jody Sibold, is the ability for families to get proper nutrition.
“If you can imagine getting various small paychecks or no paycheck at all, trying to live off of the money that you’ve scraped together, you have to make decisions.” Those decisions, Sibold said, include what money you’ll have left over to feed your family.
“People who are poor cannot afford fresh vegetables and lean (meat) and dairy products … you go through the snack aisle, a bag of potato chips is $1.50 and a bag of potatoes is $5. If you’re on a really tight budget, that bag of potato chips is not only cheaper, but it’s quick.”
Sibold discussed that proper nutritional education is key to breaking this kind of inequality.
The Chevy Chase Community Action Council was represented by Dianne Reese-Walters on the panel, who is educating residents of the Chevy Chase community to not only eat healthier, more well-balanced meals, but the council is educating children how to “tell their parents they want fresh vegetables” and even how to grow them.
“We feel that it’s important that we start dealing with the children,” Reese-Walters said. “What we found out is that the children are carrying the education they’re learning from us to their parents.”
Also on the panel was Jeff Raykes, senior planner of the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development, who said that “the challenge for community planners is how to create a voice for folks that are underrepresented.”
He said that planning processes often can be dominated by “the folks at the top of the rung.”
“One of the strengths of a great community is diversity — for communities to have minorities, income diversity or diversity, period. That’s the true strength of a community.”
Following the panel discussion, the film was shown and questions were taken again afterwards.
“The turnout was great,” said Eric Barker of the Center for Community Growth. “It was our largest crowd ever for a film in our series.” The center held a similar film series in 2013.
“One of the most rewarding outcomes of the film were the connections that were made between people at the film and panel discussion,” Barker said.
On Friday, Feb. 21, the next film in the series will be shown, “Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare.”
“We’re planning on having a panel of experts to discuss the high cost of health care, expanding Medicaid in Pennsylvania and how people can take advantage of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare),” Barker said.