Poverty News Round Up

To paraphrase Karl Barth, one should preach with a Bible in one hand, and a newspaper in the other. To make that easier, we’re continuing to bring you the top stories in poverty for the week, and we’ve added some brief commentary based on the Revised Common Lectionary for each week. As always, leave a comment if you think we missed a big story.

The Newspaper:

1. The Farm Bill failed to pass the Senate. We’ve been following this closely, so I’ll refer you to our own post about it:

“This afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 195-234 against the Farm Bill. The good news is that the 20 billion dollars of cuts to SNAP will not become law….There are a few possibilities for what happens next. SNAP can continue without a Farm Bill through the appropriations process if a continuing resolution is passed in the fall. However, if no Farm Bill is passed, farming policy reverts to 1949, the last year that a permanent Farm Bill was passed, all the Farm Bills since then have been temporary.”

2. The New York Times profiles minimum wage workers:

“Put simply, the recession took middle-class jobs, and the recovery has replaced them with low-income ones, a trend that has exacerbated income inequality. According to Labor Department data, about 1.7 million workers earned the minimum wage or less in 2007. By 2012, the total had surged to 3.6 million, with millions of others earning just a few cents or dollars more.”

3. Giving poor people money can reduce poverty, from the NY Times Economix blog:

“It turns out that winning the money had profound effects. It made participants much more likely to enroll in skills training, and it increased the labor supply. It increased their earnings on two- and four-year horizons, especially among women. Indeed, women who won money from the program had average earnings 84 percent higher than women who did not, after four years. Winners were more likely to pay business taxes too. All in all, the annualized return on the “investment” of the cash transfer worked out to a whopping 40 percent.”

Faith and Public Policy helps to put this study in a larger context by looking beyond the Uganda study to the 40 other countries that have used direct cash transfer.

4. The World Bank is looking at poverty through a ‘climate lens’:

“At the World Bank Group, we are concerned that unless the world takes bold action now, a disastrously warming planet threatens to put prosperity out of reach of millions and roll back decades of development,” [World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong] Kim said. “In response we are stepping up our mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk management work, and will increasingly look at all our business through a `climate lens.'”

The Bible:

This week’s Gospel (Luke 8:26-39) tells of Jesus driving out a demon named “Legion” into a herd of swine who then run into the lake and drown. Taken literally, it seems a lot like animal cruelty. Fortunately it’s much more interesting on a metaphorical level. Jews, of course, don’t eat pigs, which means that any swine that were being kept were for the Romans. Legion refers to a unit of Roman soldiers, usually around 6,000.  This interpretation also explains the fear of the crowds. Why would anyone be afraid of a simple healer who was able to cast out demons? If, however, casting out the demons and killing the swine is a sign of rebellion against the Romans, a refusal to cooperate by raising livestock grown for Roman consumption, then the surrounding village would surely be afraid of retaliation by the Romans. This fits with both Jesus’ other forms of nonviolent resistance (turning the other cheek and going the extra mile were also forms of resisting Roman occupation) and explains his eventual crucifixion as a political prisoner.

Today, the metaphorical pigs might include cash crops that are grown solely for profit. As one of my friends in the peace corps tells me, it’s impossible to get any good coffee in Ecuador because all of the good stuff is sent out of the country. While some economic specialization is desirable, far too much of it can echo Rome’s economic imperialism, in which the economy is being run for the benefit of the outside power, and not for the people doing the work.

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