Will We Continue to Ignore the Poor?

Search form

Will We Continue to Ignore the Poor?

Will We Continue to Ignore the Poor?
Wed, 9/12/2012 - by Jim Wallis, Sojourners

We've got a problem in this country. I know it, you know it, and the politicians know it too, but most won't even say it out loud: poverty. We're bracing ourselves for next month's release of the 2011 numbers - most economists predict that we're looking at the highest rates of poverty in fifty years.

In the years before the recession, we were making some strides. We had programs like Head Start that helped build strong kids from the get-go. We had high employment, and things were moving in the right direction. But even then, when we had budget surpluses, we couldn't get the nation's political leaders to focus on a real commitment to significantly reducing poverty in America. Then the recession hit, and everything changed. Many of those who were in poverty last decade were pushed into "deep" poverty (less than half of the poverty line) and we have an emerging group called the "newly poor"- those suburban families whose houses are under water, who can't pay their gas, and whose six-figure jobs dissolved when the bubbles burst. The face and the type of poverty in this country is changing rapidly: suburbs in the largest metro areas saw their poor populations increase 25 percent from 2000 to 2008 - almost five times faster than in the cities, according to Brookings.

If you're not poor, and you don't have friends who are poor, you might have little clue about what it's like to be in poverty. For too many people before the recession, poverty was about "them." About "those people." Now, poverty is "us" - those sitting next to us in the pews, fellow workers laid off, brothers or sisters with their houses underwater. We have a whole group of hardworking people, through no fault of their own, who are slipping through the cracks and under the poverty line. According to the Census, nearly half of Americans are under the poverty line or barely above it: they are one paycheck, one health crisis, one breath away from falling below that line. Folks who used to donate their used clothes to Salvation Army are now shopping there; families who used to donate to food banks are standing in their ever-growing lines.

We've got a poverty problem in this country, paired with leaders who won't even say the word "poverty," let alone solve the problem. We have a political class, on both sides of the aisle, that is so far removed from the hardships of a normal life that they can't even connect with the middle class, let alone the poor. We've got professional politicians who think they're representing their people, but how can they when they're forced to raise thousands of dollars a day to get re-elected?

We have a system set up for politicians to move farther and farther away from their constituents and into the hands of the donors, the rich, the powerful. Instead of representing their district, they're trolling for money and have lost touch with the people who need them the most - the poor and vulnerable. I don't think all members of Congress came here to overlook the poor, but they were elected into a system that does it for them; in Washington, it's always campaign crunch time, and the pervasive dominance of money in politics has made it nearly impossible for the stories and hardships of the poor to make headway into the national conversations.

The Bible says a nation is judged by how it treats the poor, the vulnerable, and who Jesus called "the least of these." Will we continue to ignore the poor? Will we finally gather the political will in this country now that it's moved to the suburbs and the societal mainstream? Now that it's next to us? Now that it's us?

The poor don't have lobbyists or super PACs to get their voices heard in Washington, and they certainly don't have a real commitment in the party platforms at the conventions this season. So people of faith and conscience will keep beating the drum about poverty and asking each candidate, every candidate, what their policies will do to the least of these. Doesn't the highest American poverty rate in 50 years make this a moral issue - and a political issue?

Article Tabs

The fight for net neutrality, like the fight for an open and free Internet, is a clarion call for Internet users and content creators to defend what has made the the web one of the world’s greatest enablers of social and economic progress.

Keystone XL pipeline, carbon emissions, tar sands, Oceti Sakowin people

The Oceti Sakowin people are mobilizing a resistance that could be the game changer in the fight to stop the proposed Keystone pipeline and help shut down the tar sand projects in northern Alberta.

Occupy was brilliant in getting a message across, but these protests are specifically and deliberately setting out to disrupt the functioning of the city until attention is paid to their grievances.

Britain’s colonial legacy is a living one – no one is born prejudiced, but in Britain all of us are born into racism.

Most Americans are unaware of the true financial value of solar today.

Powell Memo, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, total boycott, economic alternatives, worker-owned businesses, student debt, student loans, banking alternatives, move your money, Strike Debt, Rolling Jubilee

This is a strategic memorandum to all movement organizers, social justice organizations, and free citizens disgusted with a corporate state that has systematically extracted our wealth and resources while giving back nothing in return.

Posted 4 days 6 hours ago

The annual conference features globalization’s "Mafiocracy" of bankers, industrialists, oligarchs, technocrats and politicians who promote common ideas and serve common interests: their own.

Posted 5 days 8 hours ago

The left-populist party headed by Alexis Tsipras is positioned to win Greece’s elections Sunday on a progressive platform to reverse austerity cuts imposed on the country over the past half decade.

Posted 3 days 6 hours ago
The Davos class run our major institutions, know exactly what they want, and are well organized, but they have weaknesses too.
Posted 5 days 8 hours ago

The newly launched organization Commonomics USA is among 15 groups calling for the U.S. Postal Service to initiate low-cost financial services to end "prey-day" lending.

Posted 6 days 6 hours ago

Rising inequality is dangerous. A concentration of wealth capturing power is leaving ordinary people voiceless.

The annual conference features globalization’s "Mafiocracy" of bankers, industrialists, oligarchs, technocrats and politicians who promote common ideas and serve common interests: their own.

oil boom, too big to fail, oil and gas investments, plunging gas market

The Street hyped junk bonds, instigated mergers and acquisitions, and leveraged loans or new shares that it pushed into the hands of investors, who were bamboozled into thinking all risk had been removed from the oil equation.

The Davos class run our major institutions, know exactly what they want, and are well organized, but they have weaknesses too.
Kaiser Permanente, mental health crisis, health care treatments

Despite making profits in the billions, the health care provider doesn't staff its psychiatry departments with enough psychologists, therapists, social workers and psychiatric nurses to treat its ever-growing number of patients.

Sign Up