Poverty — How Long Could You Hang On?

By:  Jeanne Christensen, RSM

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.  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 people of faith hope for and pursues so that all persons may be more and live in conditions that are  more human.

Social justice 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, and 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.

Here are some facts about poverty.  In 2010, 46.2 million people lived in poverty in the U.S.  This is 15.1% of our population and is an increase from 43.6 million in 2009 and 39.8 million in 2008.   This is more people than live in our most highly populated state – California.

Poverty has increased in all racial groups.   For white persons the increase is from 9.45% in 2009 to 2.9% in 2010.  Only 8.6% of white persons were considered poor in 2008.  For all black persons, 27.4% were considered poor in 2010 while 25.8% were poor in 2009 and 24.7% were poor in 2009.  The percentage of Hispanic poor was slightly less than that for black persons.  In 2010, 26.6% were poor while in 2009, 25.3% were poor and 23.2% were poor in 2009.  For Asians, 12.2% were poor in 2010, down 0.4% from 2009 but up from 11.6% in 2008.

Children in poverty did not fare well.  Their poverty rose from 18.5% in 2008 to 20.1% in 2009 and to 22.0% in 2010.    If they live in a family headed by a woman, their statistics are a scandal at 40.7% in 2010, up from 38.5% in 2009 or 37.2% in 2008.

The U.S. Census Bureau defines poor families as those with cash incomes, before tax deductions, of less than $22.314 a year for a family of four.  Yet, many poor families with children have family members who work.  These are the families that often “fall through the cracks” and cannot participate in programs designed to assist the most vulnerable.   Of grave concern now are the efforts of lawmakers to cut the programs that service those most in need in our society.  We are called to speak out, to advocate on their behalf.

We can conclude that this year’s 46.2 million poor people comprise the highest number of Americans living in poverty since 1960, poverty continues to be higher for racial and ethnic minorities, children remain disproportionately poor, child poverty is becoming more harsh, and children’s poverty rose from 20.7% in 2009 to 22.0% in 2010.  It was 19% in 2008.  Now, one in four children lives 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.)


Statistics from U.S. Census Bureau Report, September 13, 2011

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

A Concise Guide to Catholic Social Teaching, p. 48

Compendium of the    Social Doctrine of the Church, #449

Photo by by ninasaurusrex


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