Poverty

Ohio After Ike: On the Ground, In the Dark

Yesterday afternoon, after devastating the Texas coast, the remnants of Hurricane Ike tore through Granville and the rest of Ohio, uprooting centuries old trees and downing power lines with hurricane force winds. More than one million Ohioans lost power, and some of us may be waiting for up to a week for power to be restored. In central Ohio where I live, 455,000 remain without power at this time. The schools here are closed, and many of us are without water due to well and septic systems [...]

Ten Reasons Why This Election Should Be About Issues and Not Personalities

The presidential tickets in this election on both sides of the aisle have lots of "personality;" some of the candidates have even been referred to as "rock stars." John McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis has said that "this election is not about issues, this election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates." That has been widely interpreted as a prediction that the election will be about personalities more than about issues. That would be a tragedy. [...]

Dealing With Rejection

The other day Marty invited some neighborhood kids over to help with a mailing she brought home from work. Before they got started, she sent 12-year-old Heather across the street to fetch 13-year-old Jasmine, who has been part of our fellowship from the very beginning. Heather returned a few minutes later, alone and puzzled.

"They were in there, but they wouldn't open the door" she told Marty. "Jasmine's mother said you need to call her."

You [...]

New Study on Abortion Reduction

The heated abortion debate has up to this time been focused on legal measures. A new study commissioned by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good concludes that government social spending and economic conditions do more to reduce abortions than legal strategies such as parental consent laws.

Joseph Wright (Penn State University) and Michael Bailey's (Georgetown University) examined the dramatic drop in [...]

Changing Our Minds

During each of this century’s first six years, nearly a million more Americans, on average, sunk into poverty. Almost one in 10 of us is expected to rely on food stamps this year; in New York City, make that one in seven. Today, more Americans are poor than make up Canada’s entire population.

It would be hard to argue that our society lacks the material resources to end poverty. So, given the staggering, top-to-bottom failures of the Bush doctrine and the very real possibility of a new spirit in Washington, is it possible to seize this historic moment to end the scourge of poverty?

I believe we can, but only if we come to grips with the real obstacle. It’s not, nor has it ever been, a particular president (not Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush) or a particular policy (not anti-union rulings or the gutting of support for affordable housing). The real obstacles are our ideas—beliefs about poverty that rob citizens of power to follow our common sense, our own interests, and our innate need for fairness. For three decades, the “drip, drip, drip” of false and dangerous ideas has stunted our sense of the possible. These five are especially deadly:

Myth #1. We don’t know how to end poverty.

Of course we know how. Against those who saw “economic laws as sacred,” Franklin Roosevelt argued that “economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings.” So in 1944, Roosevelt called for an Economic Bill of Rights, building on a slew of New Deal breakthroughs, from Social Security to the National Labor Relations Act, that made possible a huge leap toward the end of poverty. From the 1940s to the ’70s, the real household income of the poorest fifth of Americans more than doubled, advancing faster than any other quintile.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2008
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A Problem of Riches

Sixty of us gathered recently in a Chicago church basement for a program about the precarious U.S. economy. For almost two hours, we sat on clanky metal chairs discussing rising gas and food prices, home foreclosures, declining wages, increasing personal debt, and our fears for the future. Everyone knew the story: The economy is squeezing low-wage workers and pushing once-secure middle-class households into deep distress.

The discussion turned to solutions: living wage laws, expanded unionization, and increasing security and opportunity through low-cost college, matching savings programs, and assistance to first-time homebuyers. Then a woman wearing a colorful shawl commented that the problem was deeper, that “the wealthiest 1 percent now had a greater share of the nation’s wealth—and yet were paying less taxes.”

A young man in a Chicago Cubs baseball cap responded, “All this talk about the rich getting richer is a distraction. The key is to help everyone have the same opportunities. We shouldn’t be attacking the wealthy, especially with all the generous donations to charity.”

A lively exchange ensued. Can we reduce poverty, the group debated, without addressing inequality? Is the common good undermined by vast wealth concentrated in a few hands? Can we reduce unequal wealth without demonizing “rich people”? All good questions. All need answers—because our nation’s extreme inequality has become too staggering to go unexamined.

Most of the wealth and income gains of the last three decades, economists tell us, have flowed up to the wealthiest 1 percent of households, those with more than $5 million in assets. And within that affluent group, most gains have gone to the tiptop of the wealth pyramid, the 100,000 households that comprise our richest one-tenth of 1 percent. Last year, 7,500 households in the U.S. actually had annual incomes over $20 million.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2008
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