Look closer. Think harder. Choose the sound argument over the clever one.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Understanding Poverty in America

My wife found this very interesting article on what it means to be poor in the U.S. today (2004). It's very long, but here's the summary.

Compassion for the poor is a very, very good thing. The best way to help the poor begins with the best understanding of who we're talking about.

Update, 10/12: USA today reports that 399 out of 400 Americans aren't homeless.


(Please keep in mind that each commenter's opinions are only his/her own.)

I stuggle with understanding what a true compassionate response is to the poor and needy (*poor and needy aren't always the same thing). Sometimes our knee jerk response to helping the poor does nothing more than cultivate and encourage more destructive behaviors.

Another quote from the same website: "The core dilemma of the traditional welfare state is that prolific spending intended to alleviate material poverty has led to a dramatic increase in behavioral poverty."

And another: Since welfare reform, over 1.2 million black children have been lifted out of poverty. Six black children have been made better off and lifted out of poverty for every black child whose economic condition has worsened

And while opponents of reform claimed that the new law (even in good economic conditions) would throw an extra million children into poverty, there are 2.3 million fewer children in poverty today than there were in 1996. The poverty rates of both black children and children of single mothers have been cut by one-third and are now at the lowest points in U.S. history.

So...how do we love our neighbor? How do we be advocates for the poor and needy? Tough questions...but it seems the ministries and agencies for the poor that truly understand the realities of behavioral poverty are the most successful pulling people out of it...which is the kind of compassion and justice needed. (example http://www.step13.org/)

(The first comment was really from Bride-of-Scrutinator, under my account.)

Thanks for the thoughts and additional information!

Oops. Stop calling me bride-of-scrutinator!

Dang-it, I did it again!

There's really no question that America is the wealthiest and most well-off country (financially and materially speaking) in the world, is there?

My boss' boss and I recently had a good political discussion on something very similar. He's a proponant of a static tax rate for all incomes - something that will never happen, admittedly. As people make more money in this model, they pay more tax, but it's the same percent of their income as someone making far less.

His argument is basically that because he worked hard to where he got, he shouldn't have to pay a higher percentage of tax than others. He is referring to the "behavioral poverty" people.

I think he makes a good point about people abusing the system and playing on people's sympathy rather than changing their own lifestyles, but I'm not sure I agree with his static tax model. In a way, people on the low end of the economic spectrum are really just using "loopholes", if you will in the same way as people on the upper end of the spectrum are using them to avoid paying taxes. There are abusers on both ends in today's model. I believe the loopholes need to be eliminated. There is no justification whatsoever for tax breaks for the wealthy. None. At a minimum, they should pay the same rate of tax (as a percentage) as I do.

In addition, I'll go so far as to say that the obscenely rich (our illustrious Veep, for example, or Bill Gates) should also pay a higher percentage than I do. I say this because we are living in a democratic society in which "the people" have determined this to be so. If I'm given the choice (which again, in our democracy we all, essentially, are given when we vote) between Bill Gates getting another 5 billion dollar yacht or funding the schools most in need of funding (insert your own political cause here), I'm going to go with the schools. Now, Bill may tell me it's not my right to take his yacht away from him, but I'll sleep better at night knowing that I've done so in order to improve some kids' education.

Of course, the obscenely rich being in a higher tax bracket doesn't do much when they use loopholes to get out of paying the taxes that they should. Which brings me back to my "close the loopholes" point.

Essentially, yes, there are people that abuse the system at the low end of the economic spectrum. They are not, however, the worst abusers. I'd rather see more effort put into getting the upper end of the spectrum to pay the taxes they should pay. That would solve many of this countries economic problems.

To them to much has been given, much will be expected.

So, Scott, what I hear you saying is that you are willing to sacrifice the miata for the good of the school system! Bravo!

Just kidding...noone would ask for that kind of sacrifice. :>)

Dan, totally agree. That's why this issue is so near and dear to my heart. I want to know how to be a good steward and give in ways that truly transform lives, not support self distructive behaviors.

Good thoughts, everybody!

To give Scott's comment the visibility and discussion it deserves, I've put it in its own post.

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