How long could you hang on?

By Sr. Jeanne Christensen, RSM

Justice Coordinator, Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community

Editor, Kansas City Olive Branch

The Christian vision of economic life is the basis for all that is believed about the moral dimension of economic life is its vision of the transcendent worth – the sacredness – of human beings, created in the image of God.   Whenever our economic arrangements fail to conform to the demands of human dignity they must be questioned and transformed. God is described as a God of justice.  The justice of a community is measured by the treatment that is extended to the powerless in society. A Concise Guide to Catholic Social Teaching, p. 48

At the beginning of the New Millennium, the poverty of billions of men and women is the one issue that most challenges our human and Christian consciences.  Poverty poses a dramatic problem of justice.  In its various forms and with its various effects, it is characterized by an unequal growth that does not recognize the equal right of all people to take their seat at the table of the common banquet.  Such poverty makes it impossible to bring about the full humanism which the Church hopes for and pursues so that all persons may be more and live in conditions that are more human.

Faith-based Social Teaching Demands of Us:

  • Action to promote the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all
  • A preferential option for and love of the poor
  • Seeing the poor not as a problem, but as people who can become the principal builders of a new and more human future for everyone.

Source:  #449 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

About Poverty:

In 2009, 43.6 million people lived in poverty in the U.S. — up from 39.8 million in 2008.  This is more people than live in our most highly populated state – California.  This year’s 43.6 million poor people comprise the highest number of Americans living in poverty since 1960.   Data were first collected in 1959.

A person is poor, for example, if they are a single adult, younger than age 65, earning less than $11,161 or they are a family of 4 earning less than $21,954.  A family of 8 is poor if their income is less than $35,300 per year.  Depending on where one lives and what the cost of living is, they could be living in absolute poverty at these income levels – unable to afford safe housing, adequate food, clothing, transportation, education, access to medical care, and other essentials for day-to-day living.

The 2009 U.S. Census Data, released on September 16, 2010, shows poverty increases that have left millions of Americans behind.

All Poor Persons

2009                         43,569,000            (14.3%)

2008                        39,829,000            (13.2%)

Children in Poverty

2009                        14,774,000            (20.1%)

2008                        13,507,000            (18.5%)

All Poor White Persons

2009                  29,830,000            (12.3%)

2008                  26,990,000            (11.2%)

All Poor Black Persons

2009                  9,994,000                 (25.8%)

2008                         9,379,000            (24.7%)

All Poor Hispanics

2009                        12,350,000            (25.3%)

2008                    10,987,000            (23.2%)

All Poor Asians

2009                         1,746,000            (12.5%)

2008                         1,686,000            (11.6%)

Poor Families with Children headed by Women

2009                        4,400,000                (29.9%)

2008                         4,200,000             (28.7%)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2008 data, released September 16, 2010

Who Are Poor Families?

The U.S. Census Bureau defines poor families as those with cash incomes, before tax deductions, of less than $21,954 a year for a family of four.  Yet, many poor families with children have family members who work.  Poverty continues to be higher for racial and ethnic minorities.

Unemployment averaged 5.8% in 2008 compared with the August 2009 rate of 9.7%.   The Economic Policy Institute estimated that, assuming an average unemployment rate   of 9.3% for 2009, poverty would increase to 14.7 % — it increased to 14.3%

Higher unemployment will hit children disproportionately hard and they will remain disproportionately poor.   Child poverty is becoming harsher.   Children’s poverty rose from 19% in 2008 to 20.7% in 2009 which translates into one in five children living in poverty.

“If poor children were not hidden from most of us — if they could look us in the eye — we would not allow their hardships to continue.”

Deborah Weinstein, Coalition on Human Needs, Washington, D.C.

Fighting Poverty With Faith

NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby is one of the national partners in the interfaith “Fighting Poverty with Faith” campaign. The purpose of this campaign is to raise awareness about poverty, especially during the month of October before the November elections.  Please see for more information about this campaign. It has ideas and resources to help you plan and/or participate in events in your community.

Another partner the National Council of Churches, speaking on behalf of the 36 member communions who join together in a shared concern for all brothers and sisters in poverty, hopes that leaders of both political parties will recognize that their greatest responsibility is to uphold those who do not have the means or power to support themselves.  The debate of this campaign season should push aside partisan politics and instead identify initiatives for doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with the God who loves the poor.

Sources for this article and for much more information, data, comparisons are:

The Coalition on Human Needs, Washington, D.C. ,

U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2009 data, released September 16, 2010,

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