Poverty News Round Up

With the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other:

The newspapers:

1.  This is your mind on poverty:

“Sendhil Mullainathan, a Harvard economist, and Eldar Shafir, a psychologist at Princeton, propose a way to explain why the poor are less future-oriented than those with more money. According to these authors, one explanation for bad decisions is scarcity — not of money, but of what the authors call bandwidth: the portion of our mental capacity that we can employ to make decisions.

Worrying about money when it is tight captures our brains. It reduces our cognitive capacity — especially our abstract intelligence, which we use for problem-solving. It also reduces our executive control, which governs planning, impulses and willpower. The bad decisions of the poor, say the authors, are not a product of bad character or low native intelligence. They are a product of poverty itself.”

2. Child Poverty decreases economic mobility. (Did we really need a study to see that one coming?)

“…the common thread among “lands of opportunity” is not that they have rapid economic growth, but that they have very low rates of child poverty. Think of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, where child poverty rates are low (less than 5 percent) and young people enter labor markets with the equal opportunity we dream of in the United States. If we focus on lowering our high rate of child poverty (22 percent), and if we reverse our trend toward reduced federal spending on children, we might find that more of our children would be able to rise from humble beginnings and compete successfully in American and world labor markets.”

3. Winning the war on poverty:

“Food assistance, for example, has worked just as it was designed. As the economy continues to recover and more people find jobs, the Congressional Budget Office projects the number of people receiving SNAP will decline as will the cost of the program. The growth in SNAP is not a scandal or evidence that the program has run amok, but the consequence of a weak economy and a national commitment to take care of those struggling at the margins of our society. That is a commitment I believe the public shares and that the nation should be proud of.”

4. Reducing poverty is not impossible. We just have to want to.

“There’s no Scandinavian miracle that provides high-paying jobs for everyone. However, once you account for government benefits, the poverty rate in the Nordic countries is about half the rate in America. Universal health care accounts for some of this, and other benefits account for the rest. Some are means-tested, others are universal. There’s no single answer. The only thing these countries have in common is a simple commitment to taking poverty seriously and doing something about it.”

5. Visualizing state inequality over time.

The Bible:

One of my favorite lesser known Bible stories is Jeremiah’s purchase of land from his cousin. This week, all of the lessons talk about poverty, but I will focus on Jeremiah.

Jeremiah was a prophet of doom right before the exile. Here, though, a sliver of hope breaks through. Jeremiah buys a field at Anathoth from his cousin. Anathoth is part of the land that the Israelites are losing in the exile. The purchase is worthless, a waste of money, unless there is a return from exile. Jeremiah is investing in a vision of the world as it will be someday. A world in which the land promised will be theirs to farm.

Here, we are in exile. We are far from the beloved community and the feast that is foreshadowed in communion. But, much like Jeremiah we have hope for the future. And like Jeremiah our hope is not a vain, restless hope, but an active hope that involves investing our resources in that future vision.

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