While many of America’s 310 million people feasted on Thanksgiving Day, a silent group of Americans faced another day in poverty. Over 15 million people now live day to day, one meal at a time, in poverty – far more than at any time in the last 40 years, most of which are women and children.
In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the war on poverty and for many years after his declaration, poverty numbers dropped to all time record lows. In 1973 the poverty rate dropped to 11%; since then it has risen to its current levels.
The great recession has had devastating results for the working poor. Living on the minimum wage is no easy task. It is hard to believe a family could possibly live on $58 dollars a day but many do.
I can hear the moans from some in our society who believe the poor are poor because of they chose to be poor. There are some in society who believe individuals should take care of themselves, and if everyone does the same the world will be OK. They believe the poor are a burden on society and it’s their circumstances are nobody’s fault but their own.
The Ayn Rand crowd believes in self determination and the virtues of selfishness, contrary to the Christian beliefs of the first who settled in North America. Can you imagine if the Pilgrims felt that way after their long journey to the New World? How would the colonies have ever grown to become a society if everyone on the Mayflower had nothing but selfish thoughts in their hearts?
America was built by those who believed the collective was greater than the individual; working for a common cause created one of the greatest societies of the modern world.
Today, as the poor struggle to survive, many of the American population live in a society steeped in materialism and opulence, never seeing or understanding what it’s like to feel hunger. They travel trough life oblivious to the needs, wants and desires of society’s less fortunate, never seeing the pain on mothers’ faces as they hand their children what little money they have so they can eat, as a luxury, off the .99 cent menu at a fast food restaurant.
The poor of America have been forgotten by many, and stereotypical poor people are those who don’t care how they look or act, are without a work ethic, and are a burden on the fortunate members of our most fortunate society.
Blaming the poor is an easy task for some people; it takes the entire burden off their back with the “See, they like living like that” attitude. Unfortunately, the burden of people living in poverty is every Americans problem because the burden of poverty reduces the overall wealth of the society as a whole.
Poverty in America cost more than the total GDP output of the economy. It is estimated that childhood poverty alone costs the American economy 4% of GDP. Add in the cost of prisons, and health care for the poor and the number jumps to over $500 billion dollars a year.
I remember the old STP Oil Filter commercial and the line “you can pay me now, or you can pay me later.” The same is to be said for people in poverty in America. We can either pull up the struggling of our society or we can pay for the cost of prisons, emergency room visits and substance abuse. The ball is directly in the court of the America people; we can continue to flounder as a society of the haves and have nots or we can work to eliminate poverty.
We all need to ask ourselves in light of this season of Thanksgiving whether we want an America that is for people — in the spirit of the first settlers — or do we want a country that continues to struggle in the 21 century to fulfill its promise of our founding fathers of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Pulling the poor out of poverty is not just good economics; it is a moral responsibility of all Americans to support the least among us. As Jesus of Nazareth said “Blessed are you that are hungry now, for you will be filled.”
Image Credit: Demos.org – Please visit their site…”Ideas and Action to Promote the Common Good.”