Today is Blog Action Day, and this year’s theme is poverty. I saw a facetious phrase in a humorous news article this week that caught my eye: the “New Improved Depression (Now With More Poverty and Strife!)”
Cute. But hardly accurate.
During the great depression that began in 1929:
- The stock market plummeted 80% on Black Thursday
- Unemployment rates soared to 25%
- Farm foreclosure rate was 40%; all other foreclosures were at 5%
- Federal aid to the unemployed did not begin until 1931 and was minuscule
- Suicide rates increased from 14 to 17 per 100,000.
During the current recession:
- The stock market’s free fall was at 40% last Thursday
- Unemployment rates are currently in the 5-6% range
- Foreclosure rates are in the 2.5%+ range
- State aid to the unemployed – while not generous – is available
- Suicide rate was 11 per 100,000 in 2005 – although anecdotal evidence of suicide and other tragedy is growing
When I called my financial broker friend last week to ask how she was doing, I teased her about not jumping out of her building in despair – she works in a small single-story, flat-roofed office building. She laughed and agreed that a scraped knee was all she could achieve.
In all seriousness, while I am saddened by the panicked, violent, suicidal response to the housing and market failure, I truly don’t understand it.
A homeowner who has a home and loses it, or an investment account that drops 33%, even 50%, in value is still light years ahead of the truly poor in America and around the world.
I’ve been through tough financial times. I’ve been a single parent living paycheck to paycheck – juggling medical bills or milk, and knowing one car breakdown would make the difference between paying rent or not. Still, I had a job, medical insurance, a car, an apartment and food in my refrigerator. I was light years ahead of the truly poor in our world.
In 2005, statistics indicated that 12.3% of the US population lived below the poverty threshold – defined as $20,000 for a family of 4. Those numbers are based on a 40-year old formula which critics feel is outdated; I agree, and challenge anyone to successfully support a family of four (or 2!) on $21,000 a year. Still, those surveyed have a documented income.
I walk by the truly poor when I go to work in Seattle – they sleep on cardboard, covered with newspaper. They urinate in the public gardens, bathe only rarely, and rely on missions and alms for food. I see those poor when I travel in rural Alaska – they live in tarpaper covered shacks with no indoor plumbing or toilet facilities, and hunt and trap for the only food they’ll have for the winter. I hear stories about the poor in other countries, in war-torn Africa, Asia and Central America, where poverty is the norm and only the very fortunate escape.
Why just walk on by – either literally or figuratively, take your pick?
The always thought-provoking Dooce talks about compassionately giving to street beggars. If you’re not comfortable with that, it’s United Way campaign time, so consider donating to them or to an alternate community charity of your choice. This holiday season, you could even give the gift of food to your local food bank or soup kitchen to help those in need.
I don’t know that any one of us can make a significant dent in the problem of world poverty. Even so, Dooce writes in her eloquent post:
Because I have to believe that even if only one of the hundreds of people uses that money to feed themselves or their dog or their hidden, desperate children, or even if they use it to have a more comfortable night than the one they had last night, then we will have done right in every instance…
If we can help even one person, we’ve made a difference in the world. Isn’t that why we’re here?