Poverty

Churches to Obama: 'Put the Poor First'

Christian Churches Together (CCT), a three-year-old ecumenical group representing more than 100 million U.S. Christians, met with President Obama’s transition team in January to press the administration to make poverty reduction a political priority. The meeting, which included senior domestic policy advisers, focused on an economic stimulus package that would prioritize solutions to the growing poverty rate in the U.S.

The meeting was an opportunity to build relationships with the administration, reach consensus on key topics, and make a public witness for Christian concern for the poor, CCT executive administrator Richard L. Hamm told Sojourners. “We will hold [President Obama] and ourselves accountable to this commitment for the sake of the gospel mandate to care for the least of these,” Hamm said.

“We’ve heard a lot recently about Wall Street and

Main Street
,” Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Disciples of Christ, said at a press conference following the meeting. “Our concern is the people who live on the street or have no street address.” CCT is comprised of evangelical, Pentecostal, mainline Protes­tant, Orthodox, Catholic, and ethnic churches and organizations, including Sojourners, making it the broadest ecumenical conversation in the U.S. —Joey Ager

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Sojourners Magazine April 2009
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Poverty is No Accident

Warning: Don’t watch The End of Poverty? (or read about it) if you want to preserve your contentment with your lifestyle and the web of structures—historic and current—that make it possible. If the notion of the United States as empire—and poverty as the direct result of empire—is unpalatable, turn the page quickly. Even if ending poverty sounds like a good idea, don’t proceed unless dismantling our current global structures also sounds good—because that’s what it will take to end poverty, according to a new documentary released by Cinema Libre Studio.

The question mark in the film’s title suggests that poverty may very well not end if we don’t seriously confront the structural violence that divides the global community along wealth lines. Filmmaker Philippe Diaz’s tour of the voracious expansion of globalization and capitalism begins in 1492 and traverses continents and centuries, weaving a historical tapestry of the creation of poverty. “Our economic system is, and always has been, financed by the poor,” states narrator (and actor) Martin Sheen, as the film builds its indictment of colonizers, conquistadors, and the modern-day market empire.

Interviews with authors, economists, activists, politicians, and historians from all corners of the world disclose what history books tend to gloss over: Land and natural resources were stolen from indigenous people of the Southern Hemisphere and the wealth was transferred to the North, financing industrial revolutions and hooking those countries on an addiction that has lasted from colonialism to today. Land and resources still have not been returned to the people, and now, instead of empires shipping away silver and gold in full view, transnational corporations have privatized more common natural resources, such as sugar cane and water, and topped it off with a mountain of debt repayment and unjust trade and taxes.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2009
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Counting the Cost

Candidate Obama voiced his support of efforts to cut poverty in half over the next 10 years. For President Obama to move forward on this commitment, we need a measure of poverty that will show us when we’re making progress. And in the current deepening recession, it’s all the more important to know how much poverty is increasing, and among which families.

Unfortunately, the official U.S. poverty measure is outdated and inaccurate. In fact, New York City found the federal numbers so useless that they’ve recently produced their own poverty measure, and other cities are considering similar efforts.

Our current way of measuring poverty sets the poverty line equal to three times a subsistence food budget. In 1955 (the best data available when the measure was set in 1964) the average family spent one-third of its income on food; “three times food” became the official formula—and remains unchanged to this day, except for annual updating for inflation. If your family’s pre-tax cash income is below the threshold, you’re counted as poor.

There are many problems with this. Compared to a half-century ago, the price of food today is much less important than housing and utility prices. Medical expenses have grown; child-care expenses have increased as single parents work more.

Here’s the most important problem, however. In the last four decades, the U.S. has greatly expanded help for lower-income families, including food stamps, housing programs, medical care assistance, and changes in tax laws to benefit the poor. But our current poverty statistics are based only on families’ cash income, and none of these programs affect cash income—so none of them affect the official poverty rate.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2009
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