Changing Poverty into Opportunity

sojourners emerging voicesI subscribe to the weekly emails from Sojourners, and the 2/21 update had an article from Jim Wallis entitled “Changing Poverty into Opportunity.” I was intrigued to read it, because I have spent a lot of time thinking about poverty.

I have seen time and time again how grinding of a reality poverty is for those who live in it. There is a swirl of spiritual, emotional, economic, and social factors that combine to create a ferocious riptide, and it makes generational poverty one of the most difficult cycles for a family to break out of it.

The writer of Proverbs says that  “A poor man’s field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away.” (Proverbs 13.23) This confirms what most people who have lived in or fought against poverty suspect. There is both an individual element necessary for overcoming poverty and a systemic one. “Trickle down” economics often have the backwards affect on impoverished areas – even when “a poor man’s field” produces abundantly, there seem to always be unjust forces at work that easily sweep it away.

I resist any treatment of poverty that is overly simplistic, because it doesn’t match the real world.  But I’m also intrigued whenever a veteran practicioner offers their thoughts on poverty, and what it takes to neutralize its most harmful affects.  That’s why I was drawn to Wallis’ short but effective article. I’m guessing that he would not suggest that these three arenas he covers represents a fully comprehensive approach to alleviating poverty, but I think these three genuinely represent the foundations of it. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts as well.

Here’s what Wallis says:

Fighting poverty must not be a partisan issue. When we look at both the causes and the solutions, this battle should bring both liberals and conservatives together. Overcoming poverty, by creating opportunity, happens because of three very basic things that most of us can agree on: family, education, and work. All three are crucial and necessary in moving people out of poverty and into opportunity.

Let’s break it down.

Family: Helping to create and support strong and stable families is foundational to overcoming poverty. All the data — from both liberal and conservative think tanks — show that. The experiences of those of us who have lived and worked in poor neighborhoods show that. Good parenting from both mothers and fathers can do more than anything else to shape and guide the lives of children; and fractured and dislocated family environments lead to all kinds of destruction.

Education: Learning, training, acquiring skills, and developing good habits and disciplines is clearly the best pathway out of poverty — all of our data and experiences show that too. Success in school clearly leads to success in life, while failures in school lead to lives of one failure after another. Teachers are the key here. They are the people who are with our kids long enough every day to help change their lives — or not. Where schools are not doing their jobs, students can’t escape the prison of poverty — and we need education to work all the way from pre-school to college.

Work: If you work hard, full time, and live responsibly, you should not have to live in poverty in America — but many families still do because they don’t have jobs that pay them enough to succeed. We need good jobs that can support strong families; it is as simple as that. Living well requires jobs that pay living wages, and we have been losing that battle now for decades. America’s creed as the land of opportunity has all but disappeared, as we now have less social mobility than any other developed nation except for Great Britain! For the first time, children are not doing better, or even as well, as their parents did. Work has to pay.

When you think about it, both liberals and conservatives could and should support all three of those crucial ingredients to overcoming poverty with opportunity: family, education, and work.

Those are Wallis’ thoughts – what are yours?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: