-- Thomas Merton "Seeds of Contemplation" 1949
60% of the world's population lives in poverty.
When people think of poverty, we think of hunger, and that's certainly a big part of
the manifestations of poverty. We associate it with stupidity instead of illiteracy.
Laziness or lacking in motivation instead of lacking education or training. We say that
the poor have simply made bad choices, and must live with the results.
There are many myths associated with poverty, and until we acknowledge them, and deal
with the core issues involved, our righteous judgements of the poor will make no
It's not about throwing money away, it's about training, education, opportunity, and
most importantly, human dignity.
Poverty is an endless cycle when left to itself. It's the same cycle that makes the
Supreme Court rule that affirmative action, and consideration of race, is a compelling
social issue because it speaks to repairing damage that was done long ago that started the
cycle we're still struggling to end.
The cycle began with a disparity in rights and a diminution of human dignity. It was
fueled by social isolation and a lack of education. Further, the same cycle of poverty
produced a self-defeating attitude, low self esteem, and therefore, reduced the motivation
to advance in life.
It's a proven fact that when parents have a higher education, children will too.
Of course, I'm describing a cycle of poverty that sounds like the American
"black" experience. But the same cycle persists for any person, any culture, any
family that comes from an impoverished background.
We often think of doing things for and with impoverished and homeless people in simple
terms of economics. We think that assisting people is throwing money away, and that we
should not be encouraging people to rely on a system. We're a proud people, and we take
pride in the work ethic of our citizens, and rightly so.
But, the reduction of poverty doesn't just benefit the poor. It benefits us all, and,
in the long run, it becomes less expensive. Certainly, there will always be a segment of
the population in chronic need of assistance, but that segment is much smaller than you
It benefits us because it prevents crime, it encourages people to make productive use
of their time, it gives them hope. It gives them skills so that they can get jobs. And it
provides higher education, so that they can set better examples for their children
regarding the pursuit of higher education, which leads to greater earnings, and social
equality. It breaks the cycle of poverty.
Equality and equal opportunity means more than simply having the right to exist. As a
society, we need to be responsible as a whole for all of us.
Head Start is an example of a program that is being reduced, and it's a shame.
Research has shown that children in Head Start are better off not just because it orients
them and makes them better students (a first step in breaking the cycle of poverty),
but because the meals program provides essential nutrition for children who might not
otherwise be fed.
Research has shown that children who do not eat regularly, particularly breakfast, find
it difficult to concentrate, they actually experience irreversible brain damage leading to
learning disabilities. And yet, myopic policies would end these programs because of a
"waste of taxpayer's money".
The Police Chiefs of America (in 1998) supported Head Start as a vital program that
ultimately leads to lower crime rates and overall better citizenship.
Once again, when you consider the world we live in, and the world we'd prefer, and
weigh that against the cost of committing to the end of abject poverty, it's not just
about making a better world or feeding the children whose faces we see on tv.
In the end it's about creating a future for this country that is safer and more
productive for the good of all people. When all is said and done, ending poverty will make
your neighborhood a better place to live.
And if that's not a good enough reason, then remember: it's cost-effective. Or,
go without food for a couple of days.
caucus to fight Head Start changes Almost 70 percent of children
enrolled are minorities, including about a third who are black. "We've got to keep
pushing and pushing, over and over again, because our future is literally depending on
it," said Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, the chairman of the caucus.