If I had my way, I would schedule for Pope Francis to make quarterly visits to the United States. When was the last time America’s news coverage spent six consecutive days, at some point, covering poverty?
Not because it was part of their agenda, but due to the fact poverty is very much front and center of Pope Francis’ agenda. He is unmistakable in his commitment to eradicating poverty.
As he stated during his visit to Philadelphia:
“The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed, not only for the pragmatic reason of its urgency for the good order of society, but because society needs to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it, and which can only lead to new crises.”
Moreover, he offered a stinging critique about the church:
“Some religious orders say ‘no, now that the convent is empty we are going to make a hotel and we can have guests, and support ourselves that way, or make money”. Well, if that is what you want to do, then pay taxes! A religious school is tax-exempt because it is religious, but if it is functioning as a hotel, then it should pay taxes just like its neighbor. Otherwise it is not fair business.”
In summation of both comments, poverty is not just an issue for the church; it is America’s problem.
Our comfort level with discussing poverty is reminiscent of Evander Holyfield’s post fight interview with Ferdie Pacheco after winning a stunning TKO over Mike Tyson. When Pacheco asked about the key to the fight, Holyfield went on a rant that it was all due to God, finally Pacheco cut in by saying, “Let’s get off that and let’s get on to boxing.”
Now that Pope Francis is gone, let’s get off of poverty and let’s get on to the other stuff that consumes our 24-hour news cycle, especially something that possesses no ability to improve our common life.
Poverty impacts every major issue that we face; only it’s given merely a glancing nod.
How can we have a judicious conversation about the economy, education, or health care, without addressing poverty? Who among us, in the quiet solitude of our own soul, can say without hesitation that the success attained, however defined, was due exclusively to pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps?
Though the economic data suggest the worst is behind us, does that mean the problems that it caused are nothing more than yesteryear’s blurred memory quickly fading in the abyss?
The nation’s economic crisis continues to affect millions of Americans. Skyrocketing foreclosures and job layoffs have placed millions of families in an untenable situation making recovery seem improbable.
There is a rising trajectory of poverty that coincides with rising levels of homelessness and food insecurity for many Americans, especially children. In 2014, according to the US Census Bureau, 15.5 million or approximately 21 percent of children in the U.S. lived in poverty
Poverty has managed to be defined in the public discourse by laziness and apathy. Those who are impoverished have no one to blame except themselves, so the narrative goes.
If one can maintain the façade, naively believing that low-income people are a cabal of loafers who are sitting around waiting for “free stuff” their humanity remains tragically invisible. More importantly, we won’t see any need to take action.
There is no burden on elected officials at any level of government to discuss poverty in meaningful terms. As former Senator Bob Dole so adequately stated, “There is no poor people’s political action committee.” Dole’s observation suggests poverty is perhaps the only special interest unlikely to have its voice financially represented on Capitol Hill.
Because poverty in America does not look as stark as, say, India does not mean it should remain on the back burner of public concerns.
Sustained poverty leads to lower life expectancy, greater health concerns, while increasing the possibility that it will be bequeathed to the next generation. It also truncates what is possible, whereby upward mobility lives next door to the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot.
Regardless of the overly simplistic, sophomoric, or arcane responses to explain why poverty is on the rise, it remains America’s growing problem.
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