Recent news releases have revealed some startling statistics from the 2010 census. The gap between rich and poor in America is growing and the richest of the rich keep gaining wealth even throughout a recession while the poorest of the poor (those earning below the federal poverty line) are falling further into poverty.
Editorial commentator Bob Herbert of the New York Times writes about how the rich got richer and the poor got poorer (November 3, 2010). He quotes from a recently published book by two university professors entitled Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer–and Turned Its Back on teh Middle Class. The statistics are truly astounding and astonishing. Regardless of which party is in power, the super-rich have continued to get richer during the last generation while the poor have continued to slide further into poverty.
My main concern is for the children of poverty. I know what it is like to be a poor child. From the age of 2 until 4 (at least) I lived in poverty. I can remember eating only penny candy for lunch because there was nothing else in the house to eat. (I was living with a poor family after my mother died; the family ate only one meal each week–Sunday dinner after church. Otherwise it was pretty much find and eat what you can. The house sat in the poorest neighborhood of the city with no indoor plumbing. Medical care consisted of an occasional visit to a nurse at the Settlement House down the street.)
I believe a society will be judged by God based largely on how it treats its weakest and least powerful citizens–the disabled, the elderly and children. We do a very poor job of that. Surely God will judge us for it.
I recently viewed a speech (on youtube.com) by a leading conservative theologian who writes about economics. (He is the author of a major book on capitalism.) In that speech he declared that anyone in America can rise above poverty in five years. His book blames poverty on the poor. It never addresses the issue of poor children who are at the mercy of their guardians and society.
In some large cities of the world it is not uncommon to see small children wandering around homeless, begging and eating out of garbage cans. A few years ago the problem of homeless children in one Latin American city became so critical that death squads began shooting them as if they were vermin.
I think it would be ridiculous to think that could never happen here. If we continue on the course of the past generation, favoring the rich and blaming the poor (if not actually criminalizing them for their poverty) surely we will sink to that level eventually. I hope not in my lifetime (or ever).
So what are the solutions? The only solution I can see is massive redistribution of wealth–not in the form of cash handouts to the poor but in the form of truly adequate health care and nutrition for poor children as well as guaranteed equal education for all children. (What else does “equal opportunity” mean?) Also in the form of job training and help finding living wage jobs for all who can and want to work. And subsidies for day care and transportation so that the poor can work at introductory level jobs (which do not pay enough for day care for children).
These basic needs cannot be met through charity alone. Government entitlement programs are the only hope for meeting these base line needs so that all of our children can thrive and eventually participate in the American dream.