Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York recently wrote in his blog “there is too much rhetoric in the country that portrays poor people in a very negative way.” People are not poor by choice, they are poor by circumstance and the circumstances are generally beyond their control. Poverty is a vicious cycle that is difficult to break.
To paraphrase President Franklin D. Roosevelt, people are not poor in general, they are poor in particular. Poverty is very particular. It is a single mother who works two jobs and still doesn’t earn enough to support her family without food stamps. It is a homebound senior citizen who depends on Meals on Wheels for sustenance. It is a child who has never known the joy of a brand new dress and it is a laborer who stands on a corner early every morning hoping for a job for the day. In these trying economic times many families and individuals find that loss of jobs and homes have thrust them into poverty for the first time in their lives.
According to the National Poverty Center data in 2010, 22 percent of children under the age of 18 in America, more than 16 million, live in poverty. Nearly one-third of households headed by single women are living below the poverty level.
What is the answer? In his blog the Cardinal reminds us that the Church has always had a preferential option for the poor. That means the poor must receive our special attention to ensure that they have the necessities of life.
Catholic Charities of Dallas and other non-governmental agencies reach many of the poor with their programs that generous people and community groups help make possible; but the private sector can not to it alone. Government programs that assist the poor provide enormous support, but in times of economic downturn they are the first to be cut.
Poverty in America is a scandal, certainly not to the poor. There is no scandal to being poor. The scandal is for those of us who could help by using our influence and resources to promote community and government programs to assist and do not do so.
The poor are not invisible unless we close our eyes to them.