Make action on poverty, a national priority – NCR Editorial Staff , Sep. 7, 2016
In the pic: A person sleeps on a sidewalk in New York City Aug. 11, 2015. (CNS/Justin Lane, EPA)
(Note: “He has sent me to preach the good news to the poor.”(Lk.4.18) This happens to be the first of the four agendas in the Nazareth manifesto of Jesus, the other three being liberty to captives, sight to the blind and freedom to the downtrodden. All four are near allied. Jesus was a preacher and doer instantly 24×7, not a builder, administrator or supervisor. Unlike today’s pulpit preachers, and “Garibi Hataho” politicians, his pulpit or podium of political propaganda, was the streets of Palestine whose pavements were the dwelling place for the blind and downtrodden enslaved by various ailments and exploiters, which made him a preacher and performer at once, a barefoot doctor to those suffering from all sorts of diseases.
If there are About 3.55 million American children who live in households with incomes of less than $2 per person per day, think of the numbers in India. Whether in US or India both preachers and politicians wax eloquent on promises. Recall all the promises Modi made which still remain to be fulfilled. So is “Perform or Perish” going to be the lot of our present day preachers and politicians?
Platforms (also pulpits, Jesus never put up a church or pulpit) are put up to run on and not to stay on, we see it in practice. Could that have been the reason why Jesus also said: “The poor will be with you always?” Otherwise why is India depicted as Asia’s man with a beggar bawl? Or, was Jesus telling us that poverty will never be wiped out from the face of the earth, no matter how much we try? Of course those who can, that is “the Haves” don’t try to help the “Have-nots”. Only the poor help the poor, not the rich, because the poor alone know the pinch of hunger. If the truth is going to be, that poverty will never be wiped out completely both in so-called rich and poor countries, what should compel all of us is to redouble our efforts, to do our mighty bit, to reduce it to the very minimum. In this campaign all can and should join in. james kottoor, editor)
"Poverty is an issue in the [2016 presidential] campaign, it's just not being talked about. It's certainly driving a lot of the things in the campaign. It's certainly driving a lot of the anger."
These insightful words from Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, chair of the U.S. bishop's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, strike at the heart of the problem of poverty today in the United States. Nobody wants to talk about it.
Twenty years after President Bill Clinton ushered in a new era of welfare reform, we are reminded of the scriptural truth that the poor are with us always. Instead of seeing that as a challenge, our society has taken it as an inevitability, and seemingly candidates running for elected office either don't want to touch the issue or don't know what to do about it.
Major political parties focus on rhetoric that aims at soothing the middle class: promises of high-tech manufacturing jobs or restoring steel and coal jobs. Work in these fields makes up just 10 percent of the labor force. What about the vast majority of workers who toil in the service industry, most often at below a living wage? The lack of opportunity and the acute fear among working-class folks of losing what they have, a loss that is often one illness or one recession away, fuel the anger that fuels the current presidential campaign.
Since 2011, faith-based organizations like Catholic Charities USA, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Sojourners and Bread for the World have rallied behind an ad hoc coalition called the Circle of Protection. Formed amid a scorched-earth budget battle between the Republican-controlled Congress and the Obama administration, this coalition fought mightily to save poverty programs — like the Children's Health Insurance Program, food stamps and school nutrition programs — from major reductions. For the most part, this has worked.
Even with the Circle of Protection, the most vulnerable among us are not faring all that well. About 3.55 million American children live in households with incomes of less than $2 per person per day, which is the measure of extreme poverty used by international development agencies. This data comes from the recent book $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer, which traces this rise in extreme poverty.
Edin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, spelled out for Catholic News Service the consequences of ignoring poverty. People aren't linking "what's happening in our cities to the unbelievable disparities we're seeing across the country," Edin said.
"Why did Baltimore burn? What's going on in Milwaukee, Ferguson? It's not frustration with the police, while that's important. It's anger and dissatisfaction with the lack of opportunity and living in poverty," she said.
Since the launch of this presidential election cycle a year ago, the Circle of Protection coalition has sought "a new bipartisan dialog on what it will take to end hunger and poverty." In July, the group reached out to the presidential candidates asking to meet with them. Progress against poverty and hunger won't happen "unless our next president takes a strong leadership role in making that progress a priority," they said. The group has heard from one of the campaigns, but to date none have set meetings.
Those of us who want action on poverty as a national priority can do two things ahead of Election Day. When interacting with political campaigns, encourage the presidential candidates to meet with leaders of the Circle of Protection, and encourage other national office candidates to do the same.
Political scientists tell us that politicians don't talk about people living in poverty because such people as a group don't vote. So join a local voter registration drive. PICO National Network, a faith-based organizing network, and its "Together We Vote" campaign, is one example. Registering more voters from among people living in poverty will give the politicians a reason to talk about poverty.