POVERTY IN AMERICA
By John Berry, St. Vincent de Paul Georgia
As we end January, we end ‘Poverty Awareness Month’. Unfortunately, we won’t see poverty end on January 31st. I guess we just won’t need to be aware of it anymore. We’ll go on to some other ‘awareness’ month that will also end without the issue ending. It’s our way of making ourselves feel good; let’s shine a light on an issue, hope it goes away in 30 days, and move on. Cynical maybe, but not far off the truth. It’s the same way we make a big deal about the ‘giving season’ and shower organizations with money from November through December; and then ignore the need the other 10 months of the year.
Poverty in America is going to be with us on February 1st, make no mistake about that. Approximately 13.4% of the US population lives in poverty. That’s over 43 million people. 15 million of them are children and 1 in 7 seniors are living in poverty. Those are numbers that demand more than ‘awareness’, they demand action.
What is so terrible about poverty is that it is more than a condition or a state of being. Poverty is an infection that destroys from without and from within. It creates hunger in children’s lives, it destroys health, it reduces productivity, it increases crime, it drives addiction and self-destructive behavior, it causes abuse, it ruins lives, and it creating anxiety, hopelessness, and pain. And poverty is viral in that it feeds upon itself to create more poverty over generation.
Make no mistake, there is no single social condition more widespread or more dangerous to the future of a society than poverty. Poverty destroys communities and families, and when they are destroyed so is the fabric of a nation.
So as we end ‘Poverty Awareness Month’ let’s commit to not end the fight against poverty. Let’s commit to taking action. Let’s commit to working together to create integrated and coordinated actions, programs, policies, and solutions that will ensure all aspects of the barriers to stability and self-sufficiency are looked at. It makes no sense to create job opportunities if there is not a transportation infrastructure that people can use to get to those jobs. Building shelters for the homeless is a good thing; a better thing to do is address and remedy the causes of homelessness and eviction so people don’t become homeless. Hunger needs to be addressed, but food insecurity is the real challenge to permanently end systemic hunger.
The issues are complex, the solutions elusive. Let’s not let ourselves be deceived that focusing on the issue for a few weeks and then moving on is going to accomplish anything. It won’t.