Poverty: We Can End It

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Deuteronomy 15:7

Over half of all Americans will be poor at some point in their lives. Millions of people in the United States and billions around the world live their entire lives with inadequate incomes, unable to develop their God-given talents or even thrive at a minimal level. But poverty is not inevitable. In a rich world and in this incredibly rich nation, the poor do not have to be with us always. The eradication of poverty is possible. Society’s failure to recognize that poverty is at the root of many of our social concerns is just one indication of our blindness. May God open our eyes to see the suffering of God’s people and open our ears to hear God’s call to do economic justice. Our nation can eradicate poverty. The Church must be a leader in this work.

The Coalition on Human Needs, a Washington, DC,-based alliance of national civil rights, religious, labor and professional organizations that promotes public policies to address the needs of vulnerable populations (in which Justice and Witness Ministries participates) recently created Outcome Fact Sheets that describe the the impact and effectiveness of a number of federal anti-poverty programs. These are excellent educational and advocacy tools.  Check them out.

Articles and Resources
Poverty is not a state of mind by Charles M. Blow, May 19, 2014. A few statistics showing what the public thinks about poverty.

Low-wage workers are finding poverty harder to escape by Steven Greenhouse, March 17, 2014.

Income gap, meet the longevity gap by Annie Lowrey, March 16, 2014. Poverty also means a shorter life span.

The rise and fall of poverty as a policy issue by Thomas Corbett. A history of the War on Poverty in the U.S. (It was largely successful; without it poverty today would be much worse). Fall/Winter 2013-2014

Oxfam report: Rigged rules mean economic growth increases: “winner takes all” for rich elites in the U.S. and all over world. January 2014.

Lifelines for poor children by James Heckman, September 15, 2013. The need for early childhood education.

In the South and West, a tax on being poor by Katherine S. Newman, New York Times, March 10, 2013.

I was a welfare mother by Larkin Warren, New York Times, September 23, 2012.  How welfare payments can change the trajectory of a life.  

Poverty in America: why can’t we end it? by Peter Edelman, New York Times, July 29, 2012.  

A special issue of the American Prospect on poverty, July 2012.

Poverty Increasing Among Retirees by Emily Brandon, U.S. News and World Report Money, May 21, 2012.

Habitat for Humanity ties a large-scale approach to housing in Oregon by Kirk Johnson, New York Times, May 12, 2012. Taking advantage of depressed housing prices, H for H is able to greatly expand its impact.

Antipoverty tax program offers relief, though often temporary, Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, April 17, 2012. The Earned Income Tax Credit has significantly reduced poverty and income inequality.

Food stamps helped reduce poverty rate, study finds, Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, April 10, 2012. Social programs work.

Welfare limits left poor adrift as recession hit, Jason DeParle, New York Times, April 7, 2012. The social program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (“welfare”) has not expanded to cover more people during the economic downturn — leaving many in deep poverty. This is an example of a “reformed” social program that is failing.

In fuel oil country, cold that cuts to the heart, Dan Barry, New York Times, February 24, 2012. The real-world impact of cuts in social programs, in this case, in programs that cover the costs of heating oil.

In Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It? the authors describe the importance of addressing poverty, the main reason for poor achievement outcomes. Op-ed in the New York Times, December 11, 2011.

Line grows long for free meals at U.S. schools, an article by Sam Dillion in the New York Times, describes the large increase in students eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches due to low family income. For example, among 4th graders in nationwide, over half live quality for free or reduced-price lunches. November 30, 2011

The Poor, the Near Poor and You, a  NY Times editorial, November 23, 2011, identifies “a growing out-of-sight-out-of-mind problem,” noting that segregation by income has grown significantly in the United States in the past 40 years, according to an in-depth study by Stanford University sociologists.  “Mixed income neighborhoods have grown rarer, while affluent and poor neighborhoods have grown much more common.  In fact, the share of the population… who live in the poorest and most affluent neighborhoods has more than doubled since 1070…”  Also read the New York Times article on this topic, Study finds big spike in poorest in the U.S. by Sabrina Tavernise, November 4, 2011.

Below The Line: Portraits of American Poverty, a photo essay by Feifei Sun, Time LightBox, November 17, 2011.

Read about The War on the Home Front, that is the war on the poor, in an article by Frances Fox Piven, TomDispatch, November 6, 2011 (scroll down to the beginning of Piven’s article).

Resources from JWM

Ending Poverty: A Christian Social Contract for our Time, a new resource from JWM, examines poverty today in the context of other documents the Church has adopted during the past century in addition to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

“In a world richly blessed by God, tens of millions of people in the United States and billions around the world lack basic necessities and encounter unfair policies and unjust institutional structures as they seek to improve their conditions. People of faith are called to stand together against this injustice… Let us now recommit ourselves to a Christian social contract for the 21st century and to the eradication of poverty” — From Ending Poverty: A Christian Social Contract for Our Times

•  Ending Poverty: A Christian Social Contract for Our Times
•  (Version with Footnotes)
•  Discussion Questions  to accompany Ending Poverty: A Social Contract for Our Times
•  An Overview of Poverty Today provides a brief look at poverty both in the U.S. and globally
•  Learn the poverty rate for your state and county 
•  An article in the Huffington Post with a chart showing changes in poverty rates, by county.
•  Living in Poverty USA, a four-minute video from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with a good overview of poverty.

Specific UCC Programs and Activities to Help You Get Engaged

•  Become an Economic Justice Church through the Economic Justice Covenant Program
•  Join many others in the UCC as a Just Peace Church
•  Participate in Sacred Conversations on Race.   More info
•  Join the Justice and Peace Action Network – engage in e-advocacy on timely legislative issues
•  Support workers who are seeking to improve their wages and working conditions.
•  Get involved in your community through congregation-based community organizing
•  Support workers’ struggles and take action on local issues through labor-religious coalitions: Jobs with Justice or Interfaith Worker Justice.    More info on low-wage workers.
•  Become a Jubilee Congregation and work to eliminate unjust debt that burdens poor countries.  More info 
•  Become a Global Mission Church  

What is it like to live in Poverty?

Our American Story by the Half in Ten project shares individuals’ stories about living in poverty, presented for each state and focused on particular safety net programs.

The Voices of Poverty  shares the stories of poor men, women, and children, told in their own voices – the voices of America’s invisible poor. At the website, you can listen to a growing audio archive of interviews, see informative maps, explore the changing poverty numbers around the country, and add your own stories of hardship. The site is linked to photographic archives documenting poverty and to sites dealing with specific poverty-related policies and networks engaged in working on solutions to some of the country’s deepest hardship-related problems.

Resources Linking Poverty with Other Issues of Concern 

Our Economy
•  A Fair Balance: Reducing Inequality in the United States and Around the World. A resource from JWM. There is plenty for all if we share. The Church is called to work for a world where there is a “fair balance” between abundance for a few and the needs of many.
•  Highlights from a new report on the use of Food Stamps from the Food Research and Action Center
•  Low-wage Jobs 
•  Global Hunger and Food Security

Global Poverty 
•  Progress toward the Millennium Development Goals

Public Education 
•  Poverty and Public Education 
•  The 2012 JWM Message on Public Education

  Poverty and Children 
•  The Situation of Children in this Recession

Information on many justice issues related to poverty is available from Justice and Witness Ministries. 

Get an ecumenical perspective from the NCC Poverty Project.

General Synod Pronouncements and Resolutions related to Poverty

•  For the Common Good (General Synod 25, 2005): Fair taxes, need for public institutions and services, full employment, living wages, adequate income for each one, affordable housing, public transportation.

•  To advance the cause of the most disadvantaged in the budgetary and appropriations process (General Synod 25, 2005): Support progressive taxes, oppose cuts in social programs.

•  A pronouncement on economic globalization, A Faithful Response: Calling for a More Just, Humane Direction for Economic Globalization (General Synod 24, 2003)

•  Roles of Church and Government in Addressing the Global Food Crisis  (General Synod 26, 2007) urges study and action around global food crisis.

There are many other resolutions and pronouncements that relate to poverty. Nearly all of the statements focused on economic issues from the past 20 to 30 years are posted here.