Poverty: don’t treat the symptoms, treat the disease

From Chris Rhomberg, sociology professor at Fordham University, is this editorial “We Forgot to End Poverty“. In the season of Toys for Tots, soup kitchens, and in-the-spirit-of-Christmas altruism, it’s important to figure out why the United States still has tens of millions of its people living in poverty. As he writes:

Both sides attempt to “reform” poor parents to push them into the low-wage labor market, but neither side questions the failure of that market to provide families a secure way out of poverty.

Even as unemployment edges downward, millions of Americans remain poor, exposing a basic flaw in the TANF approach: the lack of jobs that pay a living wage.

It comes down to this: there are two ways that welfare ceases to exist. Either poverty is eradicated and people no longer need state assistance, or welfare is gutted or transformed without dealing with structural problems in labor and education. The United States with the bipartisan welfare reform bills in the mid-1990s, assistance was capped and shortened, continuing to shrink in its scope and amount in the past two decades. This would make sense if welfare reform was getting rid of poverty, but it hasn’t. Escaping poverty requires jobs that don’t exist and wages that are not offered- plenty of people in poverty work full-time.

Source: http://www.nj.com/njvoices/index.ssf/2011/09/census_us_poverty_rate_broke_1.html

So policy needs to keep in sight the major social problem. If the goal is to reduce welfare, make it cheaper and more efficient, you can do that. But that requires a narrow view that ignores why welfare exists in the first place. Never lose sight of the core problem. Welfare is the symptom of an underlying illness. To erase welfare does not cure anything, merely remove a way that we are reminded of poverty’s extent and persistence.

Saving the entire world

“whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

-Quote from the Talmud

How is humanity redeemed?

This year has brought war, genocide, disease, and conflict- religious, ethnic, between genders and sexual orientations. So grave are these social problems, it would seem that they would drag all of humankind down. Present actions and past injustice merge together and tar the seven billion people living today.

Despite the power of moral failing, there is a countering force. Our time here is justified by those that step beyond self-interest and reach out. They blow apart social barriers, help those that society would rather erase from memory.

It is typical to help a friend who is struggling with homelessness. It is transformative to do the same for a complete stranger.

It is expected that we counsel a relative in their times of crisis. It is transformative to listen to those who no relatives to hear them.

The moral universe is large, but it is sustained by tiny actions done in a concerted way. No individual can feed all the hunger, heal all the sick, bring back fathers and children from the dead. We are born into a broken world, and lacking perfection we must choose progress instead.

One life. We can all try to save one life, at some point. In doing so, all the suffering and strife is put into a new, more bearable perspective.