Poverty News Round Up

This Week:  The battle over unemployment benefits has stalled, with two different proposals failing to pass the Senate. Republicans refused to vote to end debate (a vote that requires 60 members to pass) and so unemployment benefits were not voted on in the Senate. Republicans blame Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for not allowing amendments on the legislation. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has a good reminder of the devastating impact this has on children.

The number of children living with a parent who has been out of work for at least six months has tripled since the recession started in 2007. … The Urban Institute pointed to studies that found unemployment among parents “can hurt children’s school performance, as observed in lower math scores, poorer school attendance, and higher risk of grade repetition.”

children with long-term unemployed parents WSJ

Also, you can check out Wonkblog on the general impact of not extending unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed.

Last Week: Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty. I highly recommend this analysis from Poverty and Policy about what we’ve learned since the War on Poverty started. It’s important to understand that there are two different types of poverty that call for very different solutions. Episodic Poverty, which is the type of poverty that’s periodic, and affects about one-third of the U.S. population; and Chronic Poverty, which is constant, and affects about 3.5 percent of the population. When we see the headline statistics of 15% in poverty we miss that there are really two groups here, and that they each need different things to help them escape from poverty.

There’s also a collection of some of the best reports published last week from the Coalition on Human Needs

Best Feature and Opinion:

1. Barbara Ehrenreich (author of Nickel and Dimed) shows that she still cares about poverty and that she still writes well in an article for the Atlantic:

The Great Recession should have put the victim-blaming theory of poverty to rest. In the space of only a few months, millions of people entered the ranks of the officially poor—not only laid-off blue-collar workers, but also downsized tech workers, managers, lawyers, and other once-comfortable professionals. No one could accuse these “nouveau poor” Americans of having made bad choices or bad lifestyle decisions. They were educated, hardworking, and ambitious, and now they were also poor—applying for food stamps, showing up in shelters, lining up for entry-level jobs in retail. This would have been the moment for the pundits to finally admit the truth: Poverty is not a character failing or a lack of motivation. Poverty is a shortage of money.

2. Maria Shriver writes about the female face of poverty for the Atlantic:

Our government programs, business practices, educational system, and media messages don’t take into account a fundamental truth: This nation cannot have sustained economic prosperity and well-being until women’s central role is recognized and women’s economic health is used as a measure to shape policy.

In other words, leave out the women, and you don’t have a full and robust economy. Lead with the women, and you do. It’s that simple, and Americans know it.

The Bible:

This is one of those rare weeks when the lectionary doesn’t have a reading on poverty (by my count it’s only happened twice in the seven months I’ve been writing these brief weekly reflections…in other words, poverty is a major theme in the Bible). That means it’s a perfect week to look at the Bible and poverty in a broader context, rather than a specific text. I’ve written a review of public policy in the Bible from Genesis through the Gospels  (someday I promise I’ll cover the epistles and Revelation as well – Revelation actually says quite a bit about economics once you start to understand the symbolism). It’s a little hard to summarize, but I come to four characteristics about public policy and the Kingdom of God after going through the Bible.

“The Kingdom of God is already present inasmuch as individuals are willing to collaborate with it, to enter into it and to live it out. It is also nonviolent, it does not overthrow power with violence but instead seeks to subvert that power (Matthew 5:38-41). The way of Jesus is to enter into this Kingdom that is typified by the teachings of Jesus, and the prophets, and the law. A kingdom is, of course, a form of political order. The Kingdom of God is one in which God is king, and clearly God is a very different kind of king than King David or any of the other kings of earth with whom we are familiar. Based on the overview given above there are a few characteristics that stand out to me:

  • An overwhelming concern with and compassion for the poor and vulnerable.
  • A rejection of physical wealth and power as status symbols or a way to be secure.
  • A desire for proper relationships with God and among human beings.
  • Peace that comes through justice, not violence.”
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