Earlier this week the US Census Bureau released a report on "Income, Poverty and Health Insurance in the United States"
By the numbers:
- Poverty is defined as earning less than $22,000 for a family of four
- 46.2 Million people in the United States live in poverty
- That's 15.1% of the US population
- 1-in-6 people
Why should you care that people are in poverty?
Ron Sider's book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger was written in 1978. It greatly impacted me when I read it in 2004, and it still rings true today. What do we do when we - who have so much - are confronted with a huge part of the world (in this case, our country) that has so little?
What can we ["Christian professionals in an age of Poverty"] do to help?
Let's go to the source: what is pushing people into poverty? The NYTimes says "joblessness." The unemployment rate is currently at 9.1% (notice the poverty rate is higher than the unemployment rate, just because someone has a job doesn't mean they are "safe" from poverty). Maybe you're worried about your job, about your spouse's job, your parents' jobs, your neighbors' jobs. Do you know someone who is unemployed? How can you help?
When you think about changing the big picture – when you consider the huge national problem – you can easily be discouraged and overwhelmed. Personally, I have no idea how to fix our economic problems. I am tempted to say "there's nothing I can do." But when you or I approach the problem from a tactical perspective – when we try to figure out how to help our families, our neighborhoods, our cities – opportunities start to emerge.
Here are a few "small" efforts that could make a big difference to someone you know who is struggling with unemployment:
- Talk to them! Find out what kind of job they're looking for. Leverage your network on their behalf: make it your goal to introduce them to two people in your network who work in the field they want a job in
- Invite them over for dinner, and while you're at it, put a reminder on your calendar to invite them over to dinner again in a month. You may not have a job-lead for them, but you can provide much needed encouragement
- Connect them to a jobs ministry – Christian or otherwise. Plenty of faith communities are providing services and support for people who are looking for jobs. For those of us in DC, there's a Jobs Ministry at the Falls Church. Or a quick Google search found offerings in other parts of the country - just try "jobs ministry - city name"
- Find “low barrier to entry” programs in your community and participate! You may not think of a dry-cleaner as the linchpin in someone's economic anxiety, but right now Zips Dry Cleaner is collecting your old business clothes & cleaning them for Goodwill to use in their "Will to Work" program allowing people to be prepared for job interviews
- And not lastly - pray. It sounds like the “easy Christian answer” but the most tactical and strategic thing you can do is to pray for your neighbors, for your community, for your colleagues. Pray about the anxiety they may be feeling if their job is unstable, or for their job search. Whether someone wants your help networking, or is up for your “dinner encouragement,” or not – pray for them.
We - who have so much - have a responsibility to help those who don't.
"For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:44-46 New International Version)
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition of vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourself." (Philippians 2:3 New International Version)