Saturday, August 11, 2012

What ever happened to the poor in America? Does anyone remember them anymore, the poor? These are the folks in our country who, for many reasons, are at the bottom of the economic ladder. They are dead last, with most barely hanging on to the bottom rung. The poor.

Each day they struggle to earn enough money, if they are lucky enough to be employed, to provide for themselves and their families, the basic staples of a good life: housing, food, health care, clothing, life in safe neighborhoods, and education in good schools. Not so different from you and me in their aspirations, their dreams, for themselves and their families.

What ever happened to the poor in America? If the ongoing economic downturn is an inconvenience for the very rich, difficult for the rich, and tough for the middle class, it is an absolute disaster, a train wreck for the poor.

That’s almost 50,000,000 of our fellow citizens, the highest rate and number since 1965. Twenty two percent of children in America live in poverty. Sixteen percent of the elderly live in poverty.

I did a thorough search of both President Obama’s and Governor Mitt Romney’s campaign websites and guess what? The words “poverty” and “poor” were nowhere to be found, not even one reference. The phrase “middle class” was certainly all over both sites, as both men jockey to see who can lay claim to cutting taxes for those voters. “Rich” showed up a lot too, either worshipped as “job creators” or vilified for not paying their “fair share,” but nothing about the poor.

It is as if a whole class of America is just invisible in this campaign. No photo ops at soup kitchens. No volunteer days at a Habitat for Humanity site for Barack or Mitt, swinging a hammer to build a house side by side with the working poor. No major policy speeches about the obscenity of so many of our neighbors hurting.

What ever happened to the poor in America? As a person of faith I always come back to what Jesus said when challenged about a particularly extravagant gift one woman gave him. A disciple of Jesus protested that the gift should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus instead says, “The poor will always be with you” quoting an older saying from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy which says, in full, “The poor will always be with you, [God] therefore commands you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’”

What ever happened to the poor in America? Well they never went away. They’re still here and actually increasing in number. So here’s a better question. What ever happened to the compassionate ideal of actually caring for and about the poor in America, seeing the poor, and then doing something as neighbors, citizens, voters, and fellow children of God?

It is time to ask and answer that question.

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