The Common Good

poverty line

Anesthetics and Advocates Below the Poverty Line

By definition, an anesthetic is a drug used to relieve pain (analgesia), relax (sedate), induce sleepiness (hypnosis), spark forgetfulness (amnesia), or to make one unconscious for general anesthesia. Anesthetics are generally administered to induce or maintain a state of anesthesia and facilitate a procedure. I believe that anesthetic can be employed as a striking image for particular deficiencies in faith-based responses to extreme poverty. 

As one can cite many examples where faith is proclaimed and practiced solely as an escape from – rather than engagement with – the numerous struggles associated with impoverishment, we recognize that anesthesia is incomplete without corresponding acts of sustainable social surgery.

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A practical way to serve within the tension of anesthetic and advocate is to experience a small portion of life below the poverty line. The World Bank sets extreme poverty as below $1.50 per day, and I plan to stand in solidarity by attempting to eat on less than $1.50 per day over the course of five days (Monday – Friday).

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Americans Nearly Unanimous on 'Ideal' Wealth Distribution, But Unaware of Real Levels of Inequality

This week's viral video is a must-see. The six-minute "Wealth Inequality in America," released Friday, presents the shocking, true size of the wealth gap in the country.

In a series of animated infographics, the video lends a visual punch to numbers that are hard to wrap one’s head around. The top 1 percent of Americans hold 50 percent of all investments in stocks and bonds, for example – while 80 percent of Americans share a paltry 7 percent of the nation’s wealth.

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What Is Left Unsaid in This Campaign

Much has been said by politicians and the press in this campaign. In three presidential debates alone, we've heard the two contenders for our nation's highest office speak of tax cuts, deficits, jobs, and the middle class literally hundreds of times. 

But much has also been left unsaid. In those same presidential debates, poverty was hardly featured and the word "inequality"didn't appear at all.

How can it be that the Holy Bible refers to helping the poor and vulnerable more than 2,000 times, yet two professing Christians running for president of the United States disregard this unholy scourge?

As we did not hear in the debates, nearly 50 million Americans are currently living in poverty – more than at any other time in our nation's history – and between a third and half of all Americans are within a few lost paychecks of the poverty line. When a quarter of all American jobs pay less than poverty line wages for a family of four, systemic poverty and inequality become more than abstract economics: they are moral and Constitutional concerns. 

So they should be treated by the men and women who aspire to lead our country.

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'The Line,' the 47 Percent, and the Food Stamp Professor

When I was a 17-year-old senior in high school, I was in several Advanced Placement courses. As the school year drew to a close, I wanted to take the AP test that would allow me to attain college credit. The AP tests, however, were very, very expensive. I went to my guidance counselor. She said that they could waive the fees for the exams if I qualified for the school’s free lunch program. 

I had avoided the free lunch program for years. I had been on the free lunch program in elementary school and middle school but was always embarrassed by it. So when I got to high school, I didn’t apply for it. I picked up a part-time job so I could pay for my own lunch. But now, I wouldn’t be able to take my AP exams if I didn’t fill out the free lunch program form.

So I agreed to fill out the form. Later that day, my guidance counselor sent a student aide with the form to my social studies class room, where in front of the entire class, she declared that I needed to fill out the free lunch form. I remember the shame of not only my classmates laughing at me that day, but my high school teacher bursting out in laughter as well.

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Standing Up for the Vulnerable: A Community Response to 'The Line'

On a conference call with people from across the nation who held screenings of The Line, you could hear frustrations mounting from people struggling with the challenge of reducing poverty in America.

How do you engage people in rural areas, asked one woman. Why were Native Americans left out, asked a man from Minnesota. A priest who has worked on housing the homeless for a lifetime expressed the exasperation of someone who has devoted much time and seen little progress.

The battle against poverty is a long slog. That’s why it was good to hear some of the comments of folks gathered last week at Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg, Wis. (just outside Madison) after the opening night showing of The Line.

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Let's Talk Poverty in the Debate

Tomorrow night is the first presidential debate. It will undoubtedly be an important moment in the campaign for the highest office in the land. But, whose lives will it be important to?

Certainly, there will be a lot for pundits to discuss and dissect. They will analyze phrases and statements, and will compare them to polling data and focus groups in swing states. Super PACs will record gaffes by either candidate, ready to turn them into multi-million dollar commercial buys.

But, as a person of faith, what I want to know is: how will the words that are said and the positions that are staked out affect the 46 million people in our country living in poverty? What does it mean for the hardworking families who can't put food on the table? Or the 1 in 5 children for whom poverty is an everyday reality and opportunity seems to be an illusion?

Tonight is the world premiere of a film that puts those questions front and center. The Line is a new documentary film from Emmy award-winning writer and producer, Linda Midgett. It tells the stories of real people struggling to make ends meet but still falling below the poverty line. These are stories far too common in our country today and should be a central topic of this debate.  

 

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Poverty's Annoying Persistence

It’s annoying, isn’t it, how American political debate ignores the pressing issues and instead focuses on the trivial? I’m talking about pressing issues like the recently released poverty numbers – nearly 1 in 6 Americans lives in poverty, and the child poverty rate is even higher. That’s 46.2 million people living on less than $23,021 a year for a family of four.  

Those are sobering numbers. Here’s another: a new study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting shows that of the 10,489 news stories on the campaign this year, just 17 of them addressed poverty in a substantive way. That’s a whopping 0.16 percent of coverage devoted to issues of poverty.

We need to get poverty back on the public agenda. In the richest country in the world, numbers that high should be seen as a moral crisis.  

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Poverty Rate Remains at Record Levels

The U.S. Census Bureau released its 2011 poverty report this morning, reporting that 46.2 million people were living in poverty, amounting to 15 percent of the population. Neither was significantly different than 2010. All major demographic categories – white, African-American, Hispanic, Asian – were also essentially the same as last year.

The number of children and the elderly in poverty remained the same.

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Resources for SNAP Food Stamp Challenge

After putting out there that we’re going to do the SNAP Challenge August 20-26th (living on the budgeted equivalent of food stamps for a week for meals), some folks came forward with some really helpful resources. Even if you’re not on public assistance and not planning to take part in the challenge, these are useful tools to help anyone on a budget plan for some good, nutritious meals.

Here’s a video clip on meal prep with only food bought on the food stamp budget, along with the list of groceries the chef bought on the budget: Mario’s Food Stamp Challenge Grocery List

Here are dozens of recipes from Harvesters Food Network you can do on a food-stamp-equivalent budget, complete with nutrition information for each meal: Harvesters Food Network SNAP Recipes

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Planning for Poverty: The SNAP Challenge

I’ve said before that privilege often is invisible until you don’t have it. So in that light, I’m doing a little experiment in a few days with our family, and I encourage you to join in.

A lot of us never know what it’s like to try and live below the poverty line, and I tend to think the statements we hear about the poor that lack sensitivity for their situation point to this. It’s easy to say things like, “people on public assistance are lazy” (in fact, 47 percent of SNAP recipients are under 18; a majority of the remaining recipients have other income from work, and this doesn’t account for seniors and those who are disabled) and that food stamps are a “free ride” that are so attractive, it keeps people from wanting to work and get off of the assistance.

So let’s find out just how easy it is.

“SNAP” stands for “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” which is the new name for food stamps. Basically, families receive $4 a day per family member to cover food costs, so the SNAP challenge is pretty simple (in theory, at least): Live on the same amount with your family for a week.

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