Soapbox: War on poverty has become war on poor
By Rev. Richard A. Thompson on November 1, 2012
It’s been a long time, since the presidency of LBJ, when a “War on Poverty” was declared. Since then, with real and proposed cuts in human services, it seems often to have become a war on the poor.
The reality and response to poverty has scarcely been addressed in the presidential campaigns. Former Gov. Mitt Romney did make mention of low-income people in the debates but told CNN, “I’m not concernred about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.”
One might have expected more from President Obama, who worked as a community organizer in the blighted areas on the south side of Chicago. Certainly anti-poverty measures were contained in his Recovery Act of 2009. But on the campaign trail, he has been reticent in discussing the issue.
Clearly there is no political advantage in focusing on this social catastrophe. The rhetoric is all about saving the middle class. Moreover, in an era of “leaving no special-interest behind,” there have been few lobbies on behalf of poor people.
All of this comes in the face of a tsunami of need. According to the most recently released official figures of the U.S. Census Bureau, 15 percent of the population now live below the poverty level. In Colorado, 17.9 percent of children do, with one in five PSD school children here in Fort Collins on free or reduced-price lunch.
Of course, the issues surrounding poverty are inseparable from the macro-economic debate, which will continue long after the election. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the American economy has lost about one-third of its capacity to generate good jobs since 1979. So economic growth, by whatever means, will need to provide a “rising tide that lifts all boats.” Yet without such programs as the food stamps of the Great Society, multitudes would remain or become destitute. The nonpartisan Bread for the World has estimated that if it were left to the nonprofit sector to meet such nutritional need, each faith communitiy in the nation would have to provide an extra $50,000 in benevolence every year for the next 10 years.
One thing for sure, there can be no denying the negative economic consequence of letting this societal cancer continue to spread unchecked. For what ails one part of the body politic impacts the whole. As Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West demonstrate in their book “The Rich and Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto,” poverty is a threat to democracy itself.
Positively, compassion, common to all faith traditions, is the motivator. Fr. Joseph Wrensinki, founder of the Fourth World Movement, puts it well in his “The Poor Are the Church”: “For us, grace means we should identify ourselves fully with the poorest because we have the same origin …”
Locally, Bryce Hach, in leading the local Homeward 2020 effort, has often said that poverty is not just running out of money, but running out of relationships.
Indeed, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
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