(This is the third article in a series on poverty. If you missed the previous two, please back up a few weeks and read those posts.)
What does poverty look like around the world?
Before we get any further, let me clarify some terminology. It turns out that sociologists use the terms absolute poverty and relative poverty, and it’s important to know the difference. According to the UNESCO website,
Absolute poverty measures poverty in relation to the amount of money necessary to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. The concept of absolute poverty is not concerned with broader quality of life issues or with the overall level of inequality in society. The concept therefore fails to recognise that individuals have important social and cultural needs. This, and similar criticisms, led to the development of the concept of relative poverty. Relative poverty defines poverty in relation to the economic status of other members of the society: people are poor if they fall below prevailing standards of living in a given societal context.
Last week we learned that, while a lot of people fall below the poverty line, that situation is often temporary. Also, while the poor don’t earn much by US standards, it’s still over $10,000 a year—plus government and other benefits. What does that buy you? Today I want to address what life under the poverty line is like.
Granted, it’s not fun being poor. Having fewer resources means you have fewer options—and the answer too often is “no.” Opportunities may be limited. Sometimes, things cost more for those who can least afford it—prices at stores in poor neighborhoods tend to be higher than in middle class areas, and you can’t afford to take advantage of items on sale or discounted in bulk. Add to that frustration—being poor typically correlates with reduced influence, both socially and politically. I’ve always imagined desperate families in cars, skinny, hungry children in ragged clothing, and crime-ridden neighborhoods.
“Sure, there are poor people overseas, but we have poor people right here in America. It’s more important that we help them first.”
“I want to live in the United States, where even the poor people are fat!” –Indian laborer
“The poor you will always have with you.” –Jesus
It’s common knowledge that we have poor people here in America. There are families without homes, elderly retirees having to choose between buy food or filling a prescription, and children going to bed hungry.
But just how many families are homeless? How common is it for senior citizens to be unable to afford their medications? What percentage of children lack enough food to eat? How big a problem do we have, and how does it compare with the rest of the world?
What is your opinion on illegal immigration? I’m sure you have one. This is a topic that everyone is passionate about, no matter which view you take. Provide amnesty? Send them home? Seal the border? Open the border? On the one hand, the Bible tells us to obey the law. On the other, we’re to welcome the foreigner and alien in our midst. How do we apply those verses to this political—and very human—quagmire?
Our Global Sunday school class had a guest speaker this past week. Jeff Hines and his family are missionaries to Honduras. He had a perspective that totally rearranged my thoughts on this difficult subject. What he had to say on this topic is important enough that I want to share some of it with you.
As you read this, Pete and I are off enjoying some much-needed R&R. More specifically, we’re at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, an hour plus south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Imagine 50,000 white Snow Geese, an undulating floe covering the waters of a shallow lake, then, with a tremendous honking and flapping of wings, rising en masse to fill the dawn sky. This has to be one of God’s most incredible spectacles!
Bosque del Apache is also the winter home for thousands of Sandhill Cranes, ducks, and other birds… and hundreds of birders and nature photographers. Our coming here was my 2012 Christmas present from my dad. It’s just what I wanted.
A friend of mine posted a link to the following article on her Facebook page:
Made in America Christmas: Are You In?
The average American will spend $700 on holiday gifts and goodies this year, totaling more than $465 billion, the National Retail Federation estimates. If that money was spent entirely on US made products it would create 4.6 million jobs. But it doesn’t even have to be that big. If each of us spent just $64 on American made goods during our holiday shopping, the result would be 200,000 new jobs.