Most of all, I remember the jolt of understanding that fell across my heart as I stood in that shipping container house and realized that the answer to the open wound of poverty is not, in fact, some Extreme Home Makeover (Move that truck!). It is not some lavish gift or building donation. The answer is not even to move into the heart of poverty and live some martyr-y, missionary version of life.
The answer is a lot of average people doing a lot of average things.
The answer is donations that feel completely inadequate in the face of the world’s great need. $10 here. $20 there.
It’s money for eyeglasses or for a new coat. It’s letters in the mail. It’s community leaders and public servants who care deeply and have the resources to enact their passions. It’s programs like World Vision’s “Go Baby Go,” that gives mamas like Ani information about child development and resources to foster learning and creativity in their children.
A lot of these programs were actually disempowering, Cronin-Furman found. They kept women at home, disconnected from their networks and from opportunities to organize. One government official told Cronin-Furman that despite years of training programs, she had never seen any of the women earn a living from these skills. “It’s not just that they failed to help,” Cronin-Furman said. “It’s that it actually made them worse off, cutting them off from political power.”
The survey, which was conducted in 2016, asked respondents 10 questions, on which they were then given a score from 0 to 100.
In all, the average consumer score was 54. About a third of all adults in the U.S. have financial well-being scores of 50 or below, meaning they struggle to make ends meet or experience material hardship
The answer, then, is not that poor people live differently, but instead, that we create a society and an economy where people who work full time can live in the community where they work.
No amount of cutting back on luxury spending or driving extra hours for Uber can change the fact that there is literally nowhere in the country where a minimum wage job can support a family, that good union jobs have been in decline for decades, or that housing costs have priced people out of their homes. Cutting coupons, commuting by bike, and enjoying outdoor activities can’t really fix that.
So, instead of telling poor people what they should do to work around a system that’s leaving more and more people behind every year, we need to consider how the system can bend and change to better fit the needs of all people.
“The issue is not whether you’re a liberal or a conservative denomination,” she said. “That’s irrelevant. The issue is: Are you a congregation that provides a way of meaningful life for people to be able to navigate chaotic times and to be able to connect with God, to experience a new sense of the Spirit, to be able to love and be compassionate? That’s what makes religious communities vibrant, not whether they are liberal or conservative.”
I haven’t run out of salient points or evidence for my political perspective, but there is a particular stumbling block I keep running into when trying to reach across the proverbial aisle and have those “difficult conversations” so smugly suggested by think piece after think piece:
I don’t know how to explain to someone why they should care about other people.
And how is one to move up from the lower group to the higher one? Education is key, Temin writes, but notes that this means plotting, starting in early childhood, a successful path to, and through, college. That’s a 16-year (or longer) plan that, as Temin compellingly observes, can be easily upended. For minorities especially, this means contending with the racially fraught trends Temin identifies earlier in his book, such as mass incarceration and institutional disinvestment in students, for example. Many cities, which house a disproportionate portion of the black (and increasingly, Latino) population, lack adequate funding for schools. And decrepit infrastructure and lackluster public transit can make it difficult for residents to get out of their communities to places with better educational or work opportunities. Temin argues that these impediments exist by design.
When a person lives in poverty, a growing body of research suggests the limbic system is constantly sending fear and stress messages to the prefrontal cortex, which overloads its ability to solve problems, set goals, and complete tasks in the most efficient ways.
This happens to everyone at some point, regardless of social class. The overload can be prompted by any number of things, including an overly stressful day at work or a family emergency. People in poverty, however, have the added burden of ever-present stress. They are constantly struggling to make ends meet and often bracing themselves against class bias that adds extra strain or even trauma to their daily lives.
And the science is clear—when brain capacity is used up on these worries and fears, there simply isn’t as much bandwidth for other things.
Historically, the distribution of benefits was about flat. Richer people received more Social Security benefits, but that was offset by higher Medicaid and disability insurance payouts to lower-income people. But for younger cohorts, the affluent get about $130,000 more in lifetime benefits than the poor. And they find that the most simplistic forms of program cuts that involve raising the age at which you can first claim benefits exacerbates the situation.
Yeah, we’ve seen just a huge influx of resources to create charter schools and to push more choice within our public school system. What people are maybe less familiar with is the role of Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation and ushering in the Common Core. The Gates Foundation got behind the idea of the Common Core in a big way and more than any single actor in U.S. education really made the Common Core happen. That’s an astonishing achievement for private philanthropy. You know, that a wealthy couple like Bill and Melinda Gates can, through giving a few hundred million dollars, shape what is being taught to students across the country really underscores the power of private philanthropy in this age in which we live.