By definition, an anesthetic is a drug used to relieve pain (analgesia), relax (sedate), induce sleepiness (hypnosis), spark forgetfulness (amnesia), or to make one unconscious for general anesthesia. Anesthetics are generally administered to induce or maintain a state of anesthesia and facilitate a procedure. I believe that anesthetic can be employed as a striking image for particular deficiencies in faith-based responses to extreme poverty.
As one can cite many examples where faith is proclaimed and practiced solely as an escape from – rather than engagement with – the numerous struggles associated with impoverishment, we recognize that anesthesia is incomplete without corresponding acts of sustainable social surgery.
A practical way to serve within the tension of anesthetic and advocate is to experience a small portion of life below the poverty line. The World Bank sets extreme poverty as below $1.50 per day, and I plan to stand in solidarity by attempting to eat on less than $1.50 per day over the course of five days (Monday – Friday).
This week's viral video is a must-see. The six-minute "Wealth Inequality in America," released Friday, presents the shocking, true size of the wealth gap in the country.
In a series of animated infographics, the video lends a visual punch to numbers that are hard to wrap one’s head around. The top 1 percent of Americans hold 50 percent of all investments in stocks and bonds, for example – while 80 percent of Americans share a paltry 7 percent of the nation’s wealth.
Much has been said by politicians and the press in this campaign. In three presidential debates alone, we've heard the two contenders for our nation's highest office speak of tax cuts, deficits, jobs, and the middle class literally hundreds of times.
But much has also been left unsaid. In those same presidential debates, poverty was hardly featured and the word "inequality"didn't appear at all.
How can it be that the Holy Bible refers to helping the poor and vulnerable more than 2,000 times, yet two professing Christians running for president of the United States disregard this unholy scourge?
As we did not hear in the debates, nearly 50 million Americans are currently living in poverty – more than at any other time in our nation's history – and between a third and half of all Americans are within a few lost paychecks of the poverty line. When a quarter of all American jobs pay less than poverty line wages for a family of four, systemic poverty and inequality become more than abstract economics: they are moral and Constitutional concerns.
So they should be treated by the men and women who aspire to lead our country.
When I was a 17-year-old senior in high school, I was in several Advanced Placement courses. As the school year drew to a close, I wanted to take the AP test that would allow me to attain college credit. The AP tests, however, were very, very expensive. I went to my guidance counselor. She said that they could waive the fees for the exams if I qualified for the school’s free lunch program.
I had avoided the free lunch program for years. I had been on the free lunch program in elementary school and middle school but was always embarrassed by it. So when I got to high school, I didn’t apply for it. I picked up a part-time job so I could pay for my own lunch. But now, I wouldn’t be able to take my AP exams if I didn’t fill out the free lunch program form.
So I agreed to fill out the form. Later that day, my guidance counselor sent a student aide with the form to my social studies class room, where in front of the entire class, she declared that I needed to fill out the free lunch form. I remember the shame of not only my classmates laughing at me that day, but my high school teacher bursting out in laughter as well.
On a conference call with people from across the nation who held screenings of The Line, you could hear frustrations mounting from people struggling with the challenge of reducing poverty in America.
How do you engage people in rural areas, asked one woman. Why were Native Americans left out, asked a man from Minnesota. A priest who has worked on housing the homeless for a lifetime expressed the exasperation of someone who has devoted much time and seen little progress.
The battle against poverty is a long slog. That’s why it was good to hear some of the comments of folks gathered last week at Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg, Wis. (just outside Madison) after the opening night showing of The Line.
Tomorrow night is the first presidential debate. It will undoubtedly be an important moment in the campaign for the highest office in the land. But, whose lives will it be important to?
Certainly, there will be a lot for pundits to discuss and dissect. They will analyze phrases and statements, and will compare them to polling data and focus groups in swing states. Super PACs will record gaffes by either candidate, ready to turn them into multi-million dollar commercial buys.
But, as a person of faith, what I want to know is: how will the words that are said and the positions that are staked out affect the 46 million people in our country living in poverty? What does it mean for the hardworking families who can't put food on the table? Or the 1 in 5 children for whom poverty is an everyday reality and opportunity seems to be an illusion?
Tonight is the world premiere of a film that puts those questions front and center. The Line is a new documentary film from Emmy award-winning writer and producer, Linda Midgett. It tells the stories of real people struggling to make ends meet but still falling below the poverty line. These are stories far too common in our country today and should be a central topic of this debate.
It’s annoying, isn’t it, how American political debate ignores the pressing issues and instead focuses on the trivial? I’m talking about pressing issues like the recently released poverty numbers – nearly 1 in 6 Americans lives in poverty, and the child poverty rate is even higher. That’s 46.2 million people living on less than $23,021 a year for a family of four.
Those are sobering numbers. Here’s another: a new study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting shows that of the 10,489 news stories on the campaign this year, just 17 of them addressed poverty in a substantive way. That’s a whopping 0.16 percent of coverage devoted to issues of poverty.
We need to get poverty back on the public agenda. In the richest country in the world, numbers that high should be seen as a moral crisis.
The U.S. Census Bureau released its 2011 poverty report this morning, reporting that 46.2 million people were living in poverty, amounting to 15 percent of the population. Neither was significantly different than 2010. All major demographic categories – white, African-American, Hispanic, Asian – were also essentially the same as last year.
The number of children and the elderly in poverty remained the same.
After putting out there that we’re going to do the SNAP Challenge August 20-26th (living on the budgeted equivalent of food stamps for a week for meals), some folks came forward with some really helpful resources. Even if you’re not on public assistance and not planning to take part in the challenge, these are useful tools to help anyone on a budget plan for some good, nutritious meals.
Here’s a video clip on meal prep with only food bought on the food stamp budget, along with the list of groceries the chef bought on the budget: Mario’s Food Stamp Challenge Grocery List
Here are dozens of recipes from Harvesters Food Network you can do on a food-stamp-equivalent budget, complete with nutrition information for each meal: Harvesters Food Network SNAP Recipes
I’ve said before that privilege often is invisible until you don’t have it. So in that light, I’m doing a little experiment in a few days with our family, and I encourage you to join in.
A lot of us never know what it’s like to try and live below the poverty line, and I tend to think the statements we hear about the poor that lack sensitivity for their situation point to this. It’s easy to say things like, “people on public assistance are lazy” (in fact, 47 percent of SNAP recipients are under 18; a majority of the remaining recipients have other income from work, and this doesn’t account for seniors and those who are disabled) and that food stamps are a “free ride” that are so attractive, it keeps people from wanting to work and get off of the assistance.
So let’s find out just how easy it is.
“SNAP” stands for “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” which is the new name for food stamps. Basically, families receive $4 a day per family member to cover food costs, so the SNAP challenge is pretty simple (in theory, at least): Live on the same amount with your family for a week.
Throughout my salad years, I gave as I could — probably somewhere around the national average. But that was the problem.
I gave as I could, but never as I was called to do. By God.
I realized that I had been lying to both myself and God. I was never a “poor” college student. I was never a “poor” non-profit worker. I was never a “poor” young professional in D.C.
When I was in school, with very little expendable income, I still received a quality education, had consistent access to food, my housing was stable, and I had health insurance. My starting salary after college put me above the national poverty threshold (about $24,000 a year… for a family of four).
Then I took a look at the Global Rich List, which calculates your income compared to the global population. I realized I was quickly approaching the 1 percent. That’s right. In global terms, I wasn’t there yet, but I was well on my way to becoming a card-carrying member of the global elite — the dreaded 1 percenters.
Yup, all it takes to hit the top 1 percent of global income earners is to make $47,500 a year.
Something’s wrong here: The United States is the most charitable nation in the world, and yet nearly half of Americans are classified as poor/low income, with 16 percent now living below the poverty line.
This week, the Charities Aid Foundation released the 2011 World Giving Index, a comprehensive study that ranks countries by their generosity. The study, gleaned from 150,000 interviews with participants in 153 nations, focused on three categories: monetary donations, time spent volunteering, and willingness to help a stranger.
This year, the United States topped the list, up from fifth place in 2010.
While the amount of money Americans give to charity has not increased markedly, the study found a 4 percent increase in volunteering time, and an 8 percent increase in helping a stranger. (While this may not seem like drastic change, one percent means thousands of people.)
Do we want to be the kind of America that faces an historic deficit and chooses to extend $690 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of our citizens while cutting $650 billion in aid to children who need special education, student aid, and additional resources for low-income schools?
Do we want to be the kind of America that protects $44 billion in subsidies for oil and gas companies while cutting $47 billion in energy grants to help poor families heat their homes in the winter?
Right now the wealthiest Americans are wealthier than they’ve ever been and people living beneath the poverty line make up a larger slice of the American pie than they have since the Great Depression.
Is that really what we want? Really?
Occupy Wall Sreet, false idols and a moral economy. Breaking the cycle of poverty. Poorest poor in U.S. hits a new record: 1 in 15 people. As poverty deepens, giving to the poor declines. Arianna Huffington: Shakespeare, the Bible and America's shift into a punitive society. Peaceful Occupy Oakland march followed by late-night clashes.
Nearly 50 million Americans are currently living below the poverty line (that is $22,000 for a household of four) and half of them are working full time jobs.
In our current economic system, the "happiness" of the super-elite is secured while the lives, liberty, and access to basic needs of the rest suffer. This isn't the American Dream and it isn't God's dream either.
Between 1964 and 1973, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the U.S. poverty rate fell by nearly half (43 percent) as a strong economy and effective public policy initiatives expanded the middle class.
Similarly, between 1993 and 2000, shared economic growth combined with policy interventions such as an enhanced earned income tax credit and minimum wage increase worked together to cut child poverty from 23 percent to 16 percent.
We can't do this alone.