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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Despite our efforts poverty remains

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Has anyone noticed that we don't speak too much about the poor these days but instead focus on the middle class? Why is that?

Well, let me take a stab at it.

The War on Poverty has been waged for nearly five decades now through an avalanche of federal poverty programs designed to lift the lowest rung of the financial ladder. I cannot begin to name the programs but generally they include food assistance, housing assistance, transportation assistance, utility assistance, education assistance, medical assistance and much more.

Now don't misunderstand. Poverty remains and always will. The Bible told me so.

In fact, though I fall woefully short of being any type of biblical scholar, the Good Book says in Mark 14:7, "You will always have the poor with you and can help them whenever you want." It repeats those same words in Deuteronomy 15:11, Matthew 26:11 and John 12:8.

My point is that if our goal is to eliminate poverty, we are running counter to the words that should guide our lives.

So now the focus has shifted to the middle class. But like poverty, we're finding that defining the middle class is a moving target. One person's middle class is another's poverty. Or one person's middle class is another's affluence. It's all in the definition.

We have adopted the premise that the definition of poor is the inability to provide for your own needs. But some would have us define poverty as the inability to provide for you own wants. Yet we all know that there is a big difference between your wants and your needs.

We have long wrestled with the income gap in this country and in recent years that gap has widened. The fact is that more people are experiencing higher incomes which widens the gap. It's not that more people are making less. More people are making more. Am I making sense?

So what have we learned from decades of throwing trillions of dollars at the issue of poverty? For starters, we have barely moved the percentage of Americans living in the federal definition of poverty. If that is the measure of success, we have failed. Those who study these things tell us that today more people are homeless and more people are hungry than ever before. If that too is the measure of success, we have also failed.

Well, the Germans have poverty too and they are proposing an interesting solution to their issue. A leading German politician this week suggested that the poor in Germany be given a bounty for each rat they kill. Seems the Germans have a rat problem. And it seems that many poor Germans collect discarded glass bottles and return them to stores for a fee. So the Germans want to help their poor by switching from collecting bottles to collecting rats.

OK, so the Germans are a bit wacky. And their brilliant idea obviously won't fly for countless reasons. But as disgusting as it is, their idea may do more to reduce poverty than our trillions of dollars.

In short, there are many ways to address the dismal issue of poverty. The Germans don't have a clue. But gauging the success of our efforts, we're pretty clueless, too.