Saturday, September 24, 2011

Is poverty being mischaracterized?

A few weeks ago, the United States Census released their latest report on Poverty in America.  It showed that the official number of people who now live in poverty rose to 15.1% in 2010 from 14.3% in 2009.  This is the highest level since the Federal Government started tracking it in 1959.  This breaks down to a little more than 46 million Americans that are living in poverty. 

While these numbers are depressing enough, the part of their report that is starting to receive more attention is the number of people that are living in EXTREME POVERTY.  This has reached a record level over 20.5 million people. 

Extreme Poverty is classifieds as people living 50% below the poverty line.  The Federal Government sets the poverty line at just under $23,000 per year for a family of four.  So, those 20.5 million Americans living on half of that is pretty awful. 

This week, CNN's Belief Blog tackled some misconceptions about poverty.  They ranged from questioning if poverty exists in America, are people doing fine if they make above the poverty line, the rational for Safety Net programs, and why only half of Americans pay taxes.  Needless to say, much of this was to address lack of understanding about poverty and how many of us view the poor. 

One perception about poverty that was not addressed was the view that if you are living in poverty, it's your fault.  There are lots of people out there that are of the opinion that poverty is the result of bad life choices. 

While some of that might be true, the reasons for why more people are living in poverty these days is largely due to a bad economy.  Millions of Americans are now living in poverty because their jobs were directly and indirectly tied to poor financial and management decisions made by our national business leaders. 

In short, to paint all people that find themselves in poverty with the same broad brush of generalization, disgust, and sanctimony by those that are not in these dire straights, mischaracterizes the underlying reasons for poverty today.

By and large poverty is not the result of bad life choices, but to a certain degree bad timing and the result of bad decisions made by a very few that affected millions of Americans who were just trying to live their life to the best of their ability.  The reality is that there are more people that are living in poverty, or just above it, that look like you, me, close family, and your neighbor down the street.  Whether we realize it or not, we are being judged by how we treat the least of us among us. 

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