QR Blog Editor 07-25-2012

Employee rights activists Mary Kay Henry and Christine L. Owens write for CNN:

Tuesday marked the third anniversary of the last increase in the federal minimum wage. For the last three years, while the prices of gas and milk have risen steadily and the richest 1% have enjoyed huge tax breaks, the federal minimum wage has remained frozen at $7.25 an hour, which amounts to just $15,080 a year -- as long as you get paid for any time you take off. That's more than $7,000 below the federal poverty line for a family of four. As a result, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has slowly eroded -- in just three years, its real value has sunk to $6.77 per hour, a nearly 50-cent drop.
The Bush tax cuts, which are simply the perquisite of the moment for the 1%, allow for the richest to prosper at the expense of middle-class and low-income workers. While CEOs make millions and their corporations make billions as part of a so-called economic recovery, the majority of Americans are struggling to make ends meet. This struggle is exacerbated by the low federal minimum wage. As middle-class jobs are increasingly replaced by low-wage work, however, this is the economic reality for a growing number of Americans.
Read more of their op-ed here
Trevor Barton 07-16-2012
Homeless person asking for help, Kim Reinick / Shutterstock.com

Homeless person asking for help, Kim Reinick / Shutterstock.com

My students had questions about the central character in the story Fly Away Home written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Ronald Himler. And even as 2nd graders, they knew something about the problem.

"Homelessness is mean," said James. 

"I pass the Salvation Army on my bus on the way to school every day. I know homeless people sleep there," Billy added.

Fly Away Home tells the story of a boy who lives in an airport with his dad because they have lost their home. They move through the terminals to avoid being noticed by passengers. The story places you in the boys shoes and helps you see the world through his eyes. You feel the pain of the dad who can no longer provide a home for his family. You experience what its like to have all of your possessions in two blue bags. This is just the right book to help students and teachers think about how we view people who are homeless.

After reading the story to my students, I asked a few questions about homelessness.

QR Blog Editor 07-16-2012

Chris Hedges has a fascinating piece for Salon on the betrayal of the most vulnerable by war:

"We condition the poor and the working class to go to war. We promise them honor, status, glory, and adventure. We promise boys they will become men. We hold these promises up against the dead-end jobs of small-town life, the financial dislocations, credit card debt, bad marriages, lack of health insurance, and dread of unemployment. The military is the call of the Sirens, the enticement that has for generations seduced young Americans working in fast food restaurants or behind the counters of Walmarts to fight and die for war profiteers and elites.

The poor embrace the military because every other cul-de-sac in their lives breaks their spirit and their dignity. Pick up Erich Maria Remarque’sAll Quiet on the Western Front or James Jones’s From Here to Eternity. Read Henry IV. Turn to the Iliad. The allure of combat is a trap, a ploy, an old, dirty game of deception in which the powerful, who do not go to war, promise a mirage to those who do."

Read the full article here

Duane Shank 07-13-2012

Ever wondered how the poverty rate has changed over the years?  And how that breaks down by various demographic categories? You could spend several hours poring through the annual reports by the Census Bureau and find all the data.

Here’s an easier (and more interesting) way. Our friends at Demos, an organization that “combines research, policy development and advocacy to influence public debate and catalyze change,” have created a series of interactive graphs that can answer all your questions.

Tracking American Poverty & Policy contains the data on the U.S. poverty rate annually from 1967 to 2010, including the rate of those in “deep” poverty and those near poverty when you zoom in on the graph. Then follows a set of graphs for the same time period by race, gender, age, educational level, and family; with the same three breakdowns.

It’s a useful resource for historical data on poverty, and it’s fun to play with the graphs to find the data.

Sandi Villarreal 07-12-2012
SNAP stats illustration. Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

SNAP stats illustration. Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

A common rationalization those in religious circles make for cutting social programs that help the poor is that church should be the one helping “the least of these,” not the government. But if we know that’s not possible given the church’s means, that millions will get left behind because our efforts fall far too short, is that still a logical line of defense? Jesus told us to care for the poor, sick, and vulnerable—he didn’t prescribe how.

Sometimes Jesus healed people one-on-one. Sometimes he addressed the needs of a multitude by providing enough food to feed them all. Sometimes he sent others in his stead to provide healing. 

If we ignore the needy in our midst by getting rid of one huge way to address that need, we are not following Jesus’ example.

Lisa Sharon Harper 07-12-2012
David Sacks / Getty Images

David Sacks / Getty Images

In the name of protecting the “middle class” some politicians have been pressing for extensions of the Bush Tax Cuts for all earnings up to $1 million. They are calling folks in the top 1 percent “middle class.” This week, President Obama announced that he would extend the Bush era tax cuts for all earnings up to $250,000, but not beyond this threshold. Still hard to swallow the idea of those being “middle class” tax breaks but it’s an improvement from calling millionaires “middle class.”

While Jesus loves everybody, there is no Christian tradition of teaching God’s “preferential option for the middle class.” For Christians, it’s still about the poorest and most vulnerable, and here is why these tax issues matter to those Jesus called “the least of these.”

Jack Palmer 07-11-2012
SNAP stats illustration. Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

SNAP stats illustration. Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Religion reporter Amy Sullivan has an interesting piece in The New Republic today on the politics surround the deep cuts to government food programs being proposed by the House Agriculture Committee.

As she notes:

"Some conservatives have argued that government shouldn’t even be in the business of feeding people—that the job should be handled by local congregations and other community organizations. Paul Ryan has sparred with Catholic bishops who oppose cuts to SNAP, quipping that 'a preferential option for the poor does not mean a preferential option for big government.'”

The article goes on to note that, while churches were the only social safety net the country had for many years, it was the Great Depression which ended this role. Quoting from an article by Alison Collis Greene:

“'The Depression crippled churches’ finances, and the economic downturn forced them to slash services when people needed help most. Religious leaders and local church members alike recognized the crisis, and many demanded that the federal government intervene.'”

Sullivan argues that we find ourselves in a situation not so different to that of the 1930s today:

"We are watching a similar situation play out now. Many religious traditions and individual churches were struggling when the recession began. The Catholic church was dealing with the fallout from the priest sex abuse scandals. It and other traditions are still embroiled in debates over homosexuality that have led to splits or caused members to leave altogether. Congregational membership levels are down in almost every religious tradition. And as a result, their resource pools have shrunk."

Yes, smarter and more effective government programs are vital when budgets are being cut across the board. But indiscriminate cuts to vital services like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and calls for churches to pick up the pieces are simply immoral and ultimately impossible.

The cuts being proposed by the Committee will have a devastating impact on poor Americans. It’s time to stand up for the poorest and more vulnerable. You can help. Tell Congress to oppose cuts to nutrition programs in the Farm Bill today.

QR Blog Editor 07-11-2012

NPR report on the plight of the poorest in Reading, Pa. - the poorest city in the United States:

"Like many mothers in Reading, Boggs has no husband to share the bills. Poverty is high, but it's a lot higher for single mothers. An astounding 66 percent of them in Reading live below the poverty line, less than $19,000 for a family of three. Boggs admits that she made some bad decisions in life and that her daughters' two fathers turned out to be unreliable. But, she quickly adds, "I wouldn't change anything in the world for my kids, my daughters. They're what keeps me going and keeps me fighting to keep searching, as bad as the economy is. If it was just me, I would have [given] up a long time ago." You hear that a lot around the learning center: hope that things will get better if you just keep plugging away, despite the bad times."

Learn more here

QR Blog Editor 07-09-2012

A New York Times op-ed this week examined the growing phenomenon of poverty in the suburbs:

"Hardship has built a stronghold in the American suburbs. Whatever image they had as places of affluence and stability was badly shaken last year, when reports analyzing the 2010 census made it clear that the suburbs were getting poorer.

While the overall suburban population grew slightly during the previous decade, the number of people living below the poverty line in the suburbs grew by 66 percent, compared with 47 percent in cities. The trend quickened when the Great Recession hit, as home foreclosures and unemployment surged. In 2010, 18.9 million suburban Americans were living below the poverty line, up from 11.3 million in 2000."

Learn more here

QR Blog Editor 07-09-2012

Writing for The Huffington Post last Friday, Richard C. Leone asks:

"So is a renewal of the war against poverty in the offing? The current balance of political forces suggests that, rather than muster all the weapons we have to fight for the poor, many are willing to settle for uneasy neutrality. This is one "war of choice" we choose not to wage. Austerity is the watchword of the day defined somewhat differently but accepted by the mainstream of both parties as the bedrock of policy for the foreseeable future…

It's past time to connect the dots and see that by ignoring the poor we undermine the welfare of everyone in the 99 percent living from pay check to pay check. We must revive our generous national nature. And more selfishly come to see that we might find ourselves in their shoes. It may be that the poor will always be with us, but that doesn't mean it's OK to ignore them."

Read more here


Mallory McDuff 07-06-2012
Climate change illustration, red-feniks / Shutterstock.com

Climate change illustration, red-feniks / Shutterstock.com

Sister Kathy Long turned toward my 13-year-old daughter and asked one question: “What will you tell your friends about spending this month in Mexico?”

In a public park in Cuernavaca, Mexico, we sat on a concrete bench next to six women who chatted and stitched embroidery patterns with brightly colored thread.

I glanced toward the sewing group, realizing that Maya would have rolled her eyes if I had asked her that same question. An intrusive query from a mother seemed compelling coming from a Catholic nun who worked in Mexico, promoted justice amid poverty, and even spent three months in jail for protesting the military training of Latin American leaders in the U.S.

“I will tell them that rich people and poor people are all people in the end,” Maya responded. “If you have three cars and two houses, you are a person just like someone whose house is made of cardboard or metal.”

Jon Huckins 06-25-2012
Photo illustration,  allensima / Shutterstock.com

Photo illustration, allensima / Shutterstock.com

For me, intellectual exploration was one of the primary ways I connect with God. My writing, teaching, and graduate studies have not come out of a desire to attain a “deeper” faith, but rather out of a unique conviction that I must pursue these things out of faithfulness to the faith I ascribe to. God has created me for this stuff and it is a significant way I hope to edify the Church global.

Now, while this is an important reality to acknowledge and foster as I come to better understand my wiring and its relation to my Kingdom contribution, I have to hold this reality in tension with some recent experiences and convictions that have come about as a result.

Yamiche Alcindor 06-18-2012
Homeless man photo, JustASC / Shutterstock.com

Homeless man photo, JustASC / Shutterstock.com

A growing number of cities across the United States are making it harder to be homeless.

Philadelphia recently banned outdoor feeding of people in city parks. Denver has begun enforcing a ban on eating and sleeping on property without permission. And this month, lawmakers in Ashland, Ore., will consider strengthening the town's ban on camping and making noise in public.

And the list goes on: Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, Oklahoma City and more than 50 other cities have previously adopted some kind of anti-camping or anti-food-sharing laws, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

Eric Sapp 06-15-2012
Statue of Liberty illustration, Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Statue of Liberty illustration, Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

“Middle class” is the chemical weapon of political warfare. We know applying the “middle class” label broadly works and can help us win in the short term. But those victories come at a cost to who we are … and tend to result in long-term (and not insignificant) casualties for those we are supposedly fighting to defend.

Republicans are the Party of the Rich. Democrats now fashion themselves the Party of the “Middle Class.” Can anyone think of a group left with no champion? Here’s a hint:  20 percent of Americans with a full-time job are getting paid so little that--even with both parents working full time—their family of four is still living in poverty. But when’s the last time you heard a Democratic politician even mention the word “poor?"

Beau Underwood 06-12-2012
Image: OneSmallSquare / Shutterstock.com

Image: OneSmallSquare / Shutterstock.com

As Congress continues to wage a war of political ideology over budget cuts and entitlement programs, they need to remember that these abstract policy debates have real consequences for millions of Americans. 

Deciding between funding programs that feed the hungriest Americans versus giving tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans is not really a choice, at least not when it comes to the demands of the Gospel.

Christian Piatt 06-11-2012
Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

Janet Parshall and David Barton (right) interview Sen. Rick Santorum. Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

Those who wish the see the wall of separation between church and state burned down have a rather colorful – if not exactly truthful – spokesperson on their side these days. Evangelical preacher, founder of “WallBuilders Live” and perennial headline grabber David Barton is known for his “out there” claims, but his most recent is a keeper.

Barton is fairly well known for his argument that the notion of separation of church and state is a myth. He, like many fellow conservative Christians, believe that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, and that our founding father intended for this to be a country governed by Christian values, if not specifically Christian leaders.

This, by itself, is not particularly outrageous, at least in the sense that his views are not unique to him. But one of the foundational claims he makes to support his advocacy for Christian nation status is his claim that the Constitution of the United States quotes directly from the Bible.

Come again?

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker greets supporters at an election-night rally June 5 in Waukesha, Wis. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Scott Walker has survived. His intent to divide and conquer worked. First he sought to divide public workers – teachers and others from police and firefighters. This did not work. He sought to separate public employees from “taxpayers,” as if public employees are not also taxpayers. He brought South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to campaign for him. She boasted of being a union buster. So-called “right to work” is a pillar of conservative Republican politics.

Hallelujah anyhow.
Trevor Barton 06-05-2012
Handgun image, Nomad_Soul / Shutterstock.com

Handgun image, Nomad_Soul / Shutterstock.com

All children growing up in poverty are noble, beautiful flowers growing through cracks in concrete sidewalks. They are vulnerable to the frost of hunger, the hard rains of sickness, and the crushing footsteps of violence.

Marian Wright Edelman and the Children's Defense Fund remind us in Protect Children Not Guns 2012 that 5,740 children and teens were killed by guns in 2008 and 2009.

Those children would have filled 229 public school classrooms of 25 students each. Because of gun violence, desks now sit empty that might have held the next great scientist or writer or parent for the world.

QR Blog Editor 06-05-2012

Writing for The Huffington PostJeffrey P. Colin argues:

"With election campaigning in full swing now, many of the us from the 99% made famous by the Occupy Wall Street protests, are concerned that neither candidate is paying adequate attention to the issue of poverty. We are concerned that, while much is being made of impending debt ceiling debates, and geopolitics, the plight of a large percentage of the people living in the American heartland is being almost completely ignored."

Read his article and answer his poll here


QR Blog Editor 06-04-2012

For The Huffington PostRobert Gallucci writes:

Around the world, 35 million girls who should be in primary or secondary school are not; half of them are in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Bank. For those of us committed to addressing global poverty, improving education for girls may be the closest thing to a silver bullet.

Read the full piece here