The Opinionated Bitch – On Poverty
I got into another heated discussion this week on the subject of poverty with someone who feels public assistance is misused and one of her friends chimed in that it “perpetuates the plantation mentality” with which she roundly agreed. I bit my tongue and didn’t comment on the overt racism of this statement. This same individual proudly proclaims her Christianity in the same breath. I don’t question a person’s faith or their commitment to Jesus. That’s all fine and well. When the proclamation of faith comes without compassion for the least among us, I feel moral outrage.
“With Jesus all things are possible”, eh? What if the odds are stacked against these people? I suggest they are. Not everyone on public assistance has professionally manicured nails, a fancy cell phone and a flat screen t.v., as she complained. I don’t know what poor neighborhoods she’s hanging out in while ministering to others, but the face of poverty where I come from looks a whole lot different.
I understand that as long as there are social programs, there will always be people who bilk the system. Social Conservatives claim that alone is reason enough to severely restrict access to, or better yet, completely eliminate those programs as a means of reducing the size of government. Those same people are not complaining about the huge wealth disparity in our country that is ever-widening. The top 15% of the people in this country possess nearly 90 percent of all material wealth. That leaves the bottom 85% to scrap over the remaining 10%. The most wealthy 400 Americans, and I’m talking about 400 individuals, have a greater net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans.* I’m sorry, but that’s just obscene. Let’s put it in perspective with some actual numbers:
21% of all children in America live below the poverty level. When it comes to childhood hunger, the outlook is even more grim – 25%. 1 in 4 children in the richest nation in the world will go to bed hungry tonight, through absolutely no fault of their own – and that’s with the current level of public assistance.. In my state alone, another 1 million children are food insecure, meaning they may have eaten today, but don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Before Social Security came along, 35% of senior citizens lived in poverty. With the advent of the most successful social program in the history of our nation, that number tumbled below 10%. Within the last 10 years, that number has spiked to 16%. If we did absolutely nothing to change Social Security, the program could remain funded at 100% for the next twenty seven years. After that, it would be funded at 80 percent for another 50 years. So why the rush to kill or cripple a successful program? Social Conservatives claim it will help solve the debt crisis. They fail to tell you that Social Security has not added a thin dime to the national debt – but if we privatize the program, Wall Street can play games with those billions of dollars for their personal enrichment. 17% of Americans have no health insurance and 62% of all bankruptcies were attributed to medical expenses. As of today, health insurance executives bypassed Wall Street executives as the most highly compensated CEO’s in our country. As of 2007, health care spending accounted for more than 16% of this nation’s GDP. In 1960, the year I was born, that figure was 5.2%.
So what is the Social Conservative’s answer to the ginned up debt crisis in this country? Reward the people who rigged the system with lower taxes and Corporations who paid no taxes at all with more loopholes that would result in us paying them to ship American jobs overseas… while killing funding for public education, gutting regulatory agencies that would keep big business from polluting our air and our water and destroying Social Security and Medicare. Uncertainty in ‘the market’ is not the reason for high unemployment in the United States. It’s greed. Plain and simple. It’s unbridled greed. The result: poverty, homelessness and hunger. And just this week, Rick Santorum (Google ‘Santorum’ and you’ll know exactly what I think of him) stated that food stamps, unemployment and heating assistance should end immediately. Regardless of his wild, homophobic rants, this guy takes every opportunity to make loud pronouncements about his Christian faith. I can’t square watching people die in December from the cold and hunger with anything the gospels claim Jesus said or intended.
I spent a wonderful hour on BROADSIDED this morning speaking with Lisa Sharon Harper from Soujourners, a Christian Organization that puts their mouth where their faith is and fights for social justice in this country. Lisa and I couldn’t be two more different people. She’s a Christian and I’m an Atheist. Lisa’s heritage includes Black, White, Puerto Rican, Caribbean and Jewish. I couldn’t be more white. She comes from the big city, I’m from the smallest of the small towns. I can’t remember having a more ‘connected’ conversation with such a devout Christian in a very long time. It was like speaking to an old friend. (Click on the word “BROADSIDED” in blue above for a direct link to the Podcast). What did I like most about her? She spoke of faith and scripture not in the abstract, but in the here and now. She speaks of a living God and lives her life with the love and compassion I read about in the Bible. She humanizes being a Christian in ways I rarely hear today. Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” Lisa, and the people with whom she is affiliated are refreshing exceptions to that observation. Gandhi would have loved her.
To the ‘Christians’ who wish to vilify the poor in this country, I have but one thing to say… “Shut the hell up. Jesus called. He wants His religion back.”
Carol Baker is a political writer, satirist, and co-host with Vicki Childs of our Here Women Talk weekly internet talk radio show called BROADSIDED. You can hear their show every Thursday at 11 am Eastern/10 Central/8 Pacific.