Tuesday, September 20, 2005


What Exactly Is Poverty?

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina there as been a lot of talk about "poverty" in America. Speeches, blogs, articles, you name it, we've heard about poverty in America in the last few weeks.

Evangelical Outpost talked about how to handle it last week and I commented on it. This week another very respectable Christian blog, Common Grounds Online had something to say on the subject.

Let's juxtapose a couple of pull quotes. From Evangelical Outpost:
There is a particular group of Americans, many of them Christians, who don?t give much thought to their material wealth. Forty-six percent of them not only own their own homes but have more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. Nearly three-quarters of them live in households which own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars. Ninety-seven percent of their households have a color television and over half own two or more. Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player while 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception. Seventy-three percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a third have an automatic dishwasher.*

Some of them vote Republican. Others would identify with the ?Religious Right.? More than a few of them are evangelicals. This group of citizens are among the richest humans in the world yet give almost nothing in order to relieve the suffering of their less fortunate neighbors on the planet.

Who are these people? In America we call them ?the poor.?

*Understanding Poverty in America by Robert E. Rector and Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D
From CGO:
Hurricane Katrina has pulled back the curtains and shone a spotlight on the ugly drama of poverty, race, and class issues in the United States. Senator Barack Obama spoke out on the floor of the Senate after the disaster, ?I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren?t just abandoned during the hurricane, they were abandoned long ago?to murder and mayhem in the streets, to substandard schools, to dilapidated housing to inadequate health care, to a pervasive sense of hopelessness.?

Such statements make me uncomfortable? in large part because they have a ring of truth.
I have a hard time reconciling those statements, particularly in light of my international travels, something that has allowed me to see genuine poverty.

The fact of the matter is that in America we grade poverty on a curve. We measure the financial well-being of the nation, plot the bell curve and declare the lower percentiles as "impoverished," even if the same curve were set for the planet those same people would be at worst B+ students.

Consider that while the financial ruin from Katrina is enormous, even when compared to late last year's tsunami, the American cost in human life is almost insignificant in the same comparison. That too is a measure of what is real poverty and what is not.

I do not want to pretend like there are no issues in America, but I do want them put into some perspective. If you want me to worry about "have-nots," you are going to have to do better than point me towards "America's poor."

I will no doubt be accused of being hard-hearted and calloused. Believe me when I tell you I am not -- what I am is a solid believer in reality. There is nothing I want to do more than help the citizens of the Gulf Coast and I am working very hard to do that very thing. But I am really tired of people whining about how "poor" they are (That is not, btw, what CGO is up to so I am making no accusation at them here) or trying to convince me how poor they are.

The aid that is flowing into the area is almost as overwhelming as the disaaster itself. We are an incredibly wealthy nation. The sooner we realize it, the sooner we are GRATEFUL for it, the better off we will be.


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