Wednesday, September 22, 2010

43.6 Million Reasons

According to a United States Census Bureau report, in 2009, 43.6 million Americans were at or below the poverty line, defined as making less than 21,954 USD per year. That translates to 1 in 7 Americans being in poverty.

Let that sink in.

That means that the next time you are in a crowded room, or at Wal-Mart, or at a doctor's office, you can count the people in the room, and every seventh one of them is poor. Of course, being poor, they might not be in that room or that store or that office; a great many of those in poverty will not be found roaming the halls of commerce or medicine. They will, instead, be struggling to survive, eking out a living in menial, low-wage jobs, relying on public assistance to fill in the gaps in their income, and hoping desperately that their job is not the next one cut. Or perhaps, they aren't even that fortunate, forced to live in shelters, or on the street, or in a tent in a park or under a bridge, bereft of even the simple comforts of a home and food.

For all the chatter about how this is a "Christian nation," it becomes more evident as the years pass that it is far from the truth, for anyone living by the principles of Jesus Christ would not be able to stomach the thought of one in seven of their neighbors struggling with poverty. He proclaimed that it was our duty to love everyone, and that we were to do everything we could to lift up those who are often ignored or shunned by society. He proclaimed that there was no wealth where there was want. He wanted humanity to do its duty to itself. And while many of us strive, in some measure, to follow his example and do what we can for our brethren, we, too, are stretched to the limit, burdened by bills it is increasingly hard to pay. We give what we can, but it is never enough.

Is it too much to ask of those of greater means to help provide sustenance and succor for those of lesser means? It is couched as an imposition by those who make more money, to be forced to support social programs that do not substantially affect them, to be forced to pay more in taxes for which they receive no greater benefit. But isn't it the truth that their wealth is a result of those who work for them, directly or indirectly? That without the individuals who build and manufacture and program and toil at all the other menial and manual trades, there would be no wealth for them to covet? Or do they see other Americans are merely more disposable commodities, to be used until they are no longer capable, then replaced by the next desperate soul?

There are 46.3 million reasons to change how we, as a nation, should deal with our economic problems and social issues. Poverty is the driver for so many of the ills we see around us: drug abuse, domestic violence, rape, robbery, and murder. 46.3 million reasons, but it should take only one. The idea that one child will go to bed tonight hungry. The idea that one family will spend the night in a shelter, rather than in a home. The idea that one man will turn to crime to support his family because he can't find a job. The idea that someone will turn to drugs to salve their guilt over being unable to provide for their family. The idea that a baby will suffer because it cannot receive proper health care. The idea that a veteran would be forced to live on the streets, after making so many sacrifices for his/her country. These are the reasons that everyone should be working toward a more equitable society.

If greed is good, then charity and compassion are better, and better still is accepting that your fellow human beings are suffering, and you have the means to do something about it. Tax cuts, economic stimulus, bailouts, unemployment insurance -- this is not about the economy, but about society, about ensuring that people who want to work can work, can earn a decent wage, and support themselves and their families. If those who would rail against "socialized government" were to stop shouting long enough to hear the voices of the needy, they would realize that people want to work, want to have jobs, want to pursue the American dream, but they cannot do it until the captains of industry decide to put industry over profit, and begin hiring again.

War on poverty is not the answer -- the elimination of poverty is. We must do whatever is necessary to erase this scourge from our country, and then the world. Where poverty reigns, the ills of society will continue to follow. If we consider ourselves a moral people, then it is criminal to allow so many to suffer deprivation and want. It is in the hands of those with the most resources to do their human duty; until they do, the rest of us will do what we can. We cannot rest easy while one belly is empty, or one family homeless, or one American suffers.

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