More than 15 percent of the U.S. population now lives in poverty -- the highest rate in 18 years, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released this morning.
Poverty has risen for the third consecutive year in a row, the new census figures show, but perhaps the most distressing figure is the child poverty number, which rose from 20.7 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2010.
"The results aren't good," the Rev. Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, the largest network of progressive Christians in the United States focused on the biblical call to social justice, said upon reviewing the census report today.
"After making progress in domestic and childhood poverty in the 1990's we are headed in the wrong direction and the recession made it worse," Wallis said. "So let's talk about the issue of religion and upcoming election. These new poverty numbers should be the number one religious issue for the 2012 presidential election."
The poverty threshold used by the Census Bureau report was $22,314 for a family of four in 2010. "While there is no religious test for office in this country, if a candidate campaigns on their faith they should be held accountable," Wallis continued. "Jesus was clear to his followers that his concern was for the poor and the vulnerable. The God of the Bible is a God of justice; and the Bible talks about the poor more than any of the other concerns that the media and some candidates regard as 'religious issues.'"
"If a candidate for president claims to follow Jesus, then their concern should be for the poor. If they profess faith in God, they should faithfully observe God's concern for the oppressed. It's up to voters to evaluate how the candidates respond to these numbers and it's up to the media to hold leaders accountable to their professed beliefs. We know what campaign bundlers, special interests, and big business are watching for in this election, and it is not the poor. Regardless of religious identity, Christian candidates, Jewish candidates, Muslim candidates, and Mormon candidates should be watching out for the poor," Wallis said.
Cathleen Falsani is Web editor and director of new media for Sojourners. She is author of the new book BELIEBER!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber.