Who Cares for the Poor?

It is very hard to understand why any politician would be opposed to paying people a living wage – meaning, a wage that would allow them to live with dignity as opposed to living as virtual slaves to an unfair economic system.

 

It is clear that capitalism and democracy are not one in the same thing;  apparently, if  Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson had a face-to-face conversation, they would lock horns on principle: capitalism does not pretend to want to, or to be about, providing a level playing field for all people, as democracy purports to be about.

 

But to be against helping people get paid what their work contribution is really worth seems immoral. Actually, allowing poverty, or ignoring it, seems to be immoral too, especially in such a wealthy and religious nation.  It seems like more and more, people are just a beggar’s cup away from abject poverty.

 

The growing gap between rich and poor, the shrinking of the middle class, is not just an American problem. In China, reports Rob Schmitz, “the number of people …who still live on less than two dollars a day is equal to the entire population of the United States.”  (http://www.marketplace.org/topics/world/street-eternal-happiness/celebrating-chinese-new-year-street-eternal-happiness). Ironically, the very poor sit on a street named “The Street of Eternal Happiness.” The well to do most often walk past the beggars; the sense of disdain is hardly unnoticeable.

 

There is nothing “happy,” though, about being poor. There is nothing “happy” about having to choose between food and medicine, or between diapers or milk for the baby who needs the diaper. Many families cannot afford diapers; hence in some places diaper banks have been created. Many elderly do not have enough to eat. And many adults are working their buns off with hardly anything to show for it except extreme fatigue and deepening depression.

 

There seems to be such an insensitivity to the poor. In China, Kang Xiaoguang, Professor of Regional Economics and Politics, actually said, publicly, “Although there are hundreds of millions of workers and peasants, they don’t count. You can ignore them. You can also rob and exploit them. It’s not a problem. The most important thing is to get the powerful on your side.”

 

While Xiaoguang’s statement is harsh and insensitive, it is hard to believe that he is not saying out loud what many people feel.  When President Obama said, in his 2013 State of the Union Address, that he wanted Congress to approve a hike in the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour, he apparently caught Republicans and some Democrats off-guard.  The president said, “Today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, 19 states have chosen to bump theirs even higher. Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty, and raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.”

 

Those who are criticizing big government are not impressed with the president’s suggestion, nor are they apt to seriously consider it, and those who stay far enough from the poor to see the misery in which they live are not likely to “encourage” their state and federal lawmakers by threatening to withdraw support for them if they don’t raise the minimum wage.

 

If you do not see poverty, it is easy to minimize it and the suffering it causes.

 

Before the 2008 election, CNN anchor Lou Dobbs said, over and over, that America was losing its middle class.  He seemed not to get a lot of support, and I don’t remember what his solution was to the problem, but the fact is, Dobbs correctly called that there would be a crisis of the middle class, which has come to be.

 

The state and federal jobs which allowed so many people to reach middle class are shrinking, as are the manufacturing jobs. There are jobs available, but many of them require technical training which the vast majority of people do not have.

 

“Find a way to go to school and get some training,” those who are insensitive would say, not understanding that the working poor don’t have a penny to spend and would probably not qualify for a student loan. The working poor often cannot take a day off, or refuse to take a day off, even when they’re sick, because they cannot afford to miss a day’s wages. Their families suffer, as do they, in all areas of life.

 

Marco Rubio, who delivered the GOP rebuttal to President Obama’s speech, said, “I don’t think a minimum wage law works.” Addressing and raising the minimum wage would threaten the creation of jobs, those who oppose big government would say, but what kind of jobs? Probably more that are wont to pay workers what their work is worth.

 

It is no secret that wealth often accrues on the backs of the poor, with the poor getting little benefit. But there is something inherently wrong in that. There is something wrong with a system that allows the wealthy to make and hoard more money they can ever use, while those whose labor made them rich can barely make ends meet.

 

Professor Susan Thistlewaite, in her book, Occupy the Bible, encourages a moral and religious response to the issue of poverty. She spends a lot of time addressing the debt students are in who took out loans to go to college. Too many of them are not only struggling financially, but they are struggling emotionally as well. To not be able to find a job, or to get a job which does not pay a living wage, is demeaning. Many former students are committing suicide, she writes.

 

Thistlewaite encourages the religious of our society to read the Bible and interpret it from the perspective of those who struggle with poverty and financial hardship. The struggling don’t have trouble doing that; the wealthy would probably toss it off as Liberal dribble.

 

But there is no “dribble” in the fact that in this nation there is an oligarchy, not a democracy. There are too many people struggling to obtain the bare necessities for themselves and their families. The Republicans have criticized President Obama for the fact that more people receive food stamps than in the previous administration, but without help, how are the poor and working poor supposed to make it?  To require and expect them to work for the increase of profits for the wealthy and then to give them pittance in return …just does not seem right.

 

In fact, it seems that in doing that, the wealthy and powers that be are merely ignoring the poor.

 

The pervasiveness of poverty is not new; the society in which Jesus lived was as imbalanced economically as are the societies of China and Haiti and our own nation. But what is troubling is that it feels like it’s getting easier and easier for the wealthy to act like the poor and working poor don’t exist, that they are whiners and takers, like …they don’t matter.

 

Perhaps if nationally there could be a shift or an outpouring of programs that teach the poor how to compete in our global economy the picture could and would change. The poor don’t want to be poor; many of them are stuck and don’t know how to get out. Some would rather die than take government assistance. They don’t want a hand out. They want a way up and out of their economic misery. Poverty causes people to live in despair and depression; suicide is not all that uncommon for those who have simply given up hope of their lives ever getting better. There is a lot of domestic abuse amongst the poor, and children end up being ignored and neglected, which causes a host of social problems. It doesn’t make sense to ignore and/or ignore the poor. Poverty ends up costing money …but then, those who are investing in private prisons, the so-called Prison Industrial Complex, would not care about that because their wealth is built upon the backs of the hopeless and despairing.

 

Capitalism
Capitalism (Photo credit: Juliano Mattos)

 

You have to have eyes to see that, though, ears to hear it, and a heart to receive it. That, apparently, is what is missing in our great nation.

 

A candid observation …

 

Sweating Joy in Spite of Suffering

Photograph of the building used by 16th Street...
Photograph of the building used by 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama from 1884 to 1908. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I heard today that some people who were affected by Hurricane Sandy are still without power, without electricity, without heat.

I heard that as I shivered in my car which was warming up. It was 11 degrees outside in Columbus, Ohio, and at least that cold in the Rockaway section of Queens. Some businesses in lower Manhattan are still without heat and power as well; some businesses are boarded up.  A museum which housed American history artifacts is struggling to survive. A wine store in Lower Manhattan lost many of their precious wines.

I feel for the businesses; their not operating means that some families’ income is suffering. Many businesses are still closed.  But is the families without heat and power that I an stuck on, that I can’t stop thinking about. One family was reported to be sleeping on the floor in the kitchen of their damaged home, and living in that kitchen all day long,  because that was the only room in the house where they could get some heat – from the stove. Those crammed in the kitchen included a woman, her children and grandchildren, and three dogs. (http://www.npr.org/2013/01/24/170198110/thousands-still-cold-and-struggling-months-after-superstorm-sandy)

But it’s winter. How will the people survive?

We don’t think much about the victims of horrendous storms or events once the cameras go away.  Bad events tend to be like the labor endured during childbirth; we see the pain portrayed on television and then, like the release of even the memory of labor after a baby is born, we forget. Some might say that we needn’t worry because federal dollars are either there or are coming; the people will be all right.

Maybe. But there’s a good chance many people who are suffering will not be all right, not any time soon. Chances are some of them are angry at the government for not doing more for them, quicker. Some are probably struggling with anger towards God. wondering why God let this bad thing happen to them, good people. Some are probably wondering why, in general, help is so slow in coming. Some probably feel like they are being ignored.

Sarah Collins Rudolph, the sister of Addie Collins, one of the four little girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, is suffering, and feels ignored.  She survived the bombing incident which killed her sister, but was left scarred, emotionally as well as physically. Even though her life as she knew it was blown to bits that fateful day, she had to go on…but she suffers, still. (http://www.npr.org/2013/01/25/170279226/long-forgotten-16th-street-baptist-church-bombing-survivor-speaks-out) To feel ignored is to suffer…

The families of those who were killed in the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings are still suffering, as are the families of the young people who have been gunned down on the streets of big cities all over this nation. But if we are not near suffering, or have not been touched by it, we tend to minimize its impact, power and resistance to be pushed away. In fact, we forget about it, or worse, refuse to believe it is as deep as it really is.

But back to the families on the East Coast who are enduring this frigid cold spell without heat, I wonder what we who have heat can and should be doing. Something, surely. Do we need to be sending tons of blankets and, what, hats, gloves, coats…? What? The report on National Public Radio (NPR) said that some who are without electricity are waiting for a permit of some kind to restore or repair the electric systems in their houses. ( http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=170267851&m=170267838) We can’t do anything about the permit, but isn’t there something we  can do?

The suffering has so many tentacles. Many homes on the East Coast that are still standing are being devoured by mold. Some houses had standing water for weeks, some for months…and mold started growing like mad, eating the insides of the already damaged homes. Many of their homes will have to be destroyed. Then what?

I have heard and have been taught that when one is suffering the best way to feel better is to serve others. I would bet that some reading this are suffering for one reason or another; suffering is a part of living. The suffering we all go through is bad sometimes, but it can be a catalyst for us to feel better. Some who have endured horrible loss on the East Coast are busy helping to minimize the suffering of others. That is moving.

It is also inspiring. It made me think about ways to serve. There are so many people who need help, who need to benefit from the gifts and blessings that we all have. Perhaps in one’s dark night of the soul, a way to feel better, to see some light, it so help someone else. If we ask what is needed by those suffering, an answer will come.

I thought about President Kennedy‘s famous words this week as I listened to President Obama’s inaugural address. President Obama was stressing the need for us as human beings to make the right and gift of freedom accessible to all. Prior to the festivities of the inauguration, the Obama White House sponsored and pushed a National Day of Service. We, as citizens with certain freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution, were urged to help someone else.  President Kennedy gave a formula for us all to use, in suffering and out of suffering  which gave the same message: serve, when he said,  “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  If we ask what we can do for those worse off than we are, we will get an answer.

In his sermon at the National Cathedral Prayer Service this week, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of  the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, talked about the vision his congregation has to focus and guide their service. They wanted to deal with the root causes of poverty, and decided to concentrate on early childhood education.  They got involved and studied what was going on in those schools. They saw what the children needed. They got involved, as a congregation, donating books, clothing, meals(bagged meals)  for children who seemingly had no food at home.

With our country as polarized as it is, it’s a sure thing and more and more people are feeling marginalized and left out. There are people all over the place who need helping hands and helping hearts. We who have more …just need to give more. If we extend ourselves, our own suffering will recede and will be replaced by deep joy.  It’s a big surprise, what happens when we serve and give. It is as surprising as I was surprised when I began training for a marathon and found out that when one works one’s body, even in the frigid cold, one’s body will react …and will sweat in spite of the temperature.

We can sweat joy even when we are surrounded by our own pain and suffering.

A candid observation …