Nelson Mandela once said that “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of Justice.” In America the rates of poverty have increased significantly, a trend that began with George W. Bush and accelerated after the market crash of 2008.
There is no denying that some fraction of those impoverished are impoverished through a lack of their own initiative or their own actions. Equally undeniable is the fact that the vast majority of those in poverty are there through no fault of their own and even with every effort they can muster. Poverty exists as a function of economic injustice — the result of government policies and the indifference of others.
The majority of those in poverty in the U.S. are employed, part-time or full-time, in minimum wage jobs. Many others in poverty are single mothers, heroically struggling to support themselves and their children. Many of these women are employed, working long hours only to come home to even more exhaustive work. They rely on government support to help with child care, food and medical treatment. Many others rely on unemployment benefits to help them until they can find employment. Still others are mentally ill and homeless.
Beginning in the Johnson Administration, government funded programs began to make progress reducing the rates of poverty, a trend that continued until the Bush presidency. Many government funded programs were ineffective, and tens of millions of dollars were wasted. However, tens of millions of wasted dollars to help the poor pales in comparison to the hundreds of billions wasted helping oil companies, tobacco companies, and billionaires in the form of tax breaks and subsidies. Meanwhile, the present policy of our government is to ignore or imprison the poor. The rates of violent crimes is significantly lower in the last 10 years, yet the prison population has exploded … and we all know that those who go to prison are the poor. The rich get a free pass in a rehab program or probation.
Let’s consider what we can do to create a just society, and the responsibility we each bear to have helped create a society that imprisons the poor rather than helps them.