We used to have a War on Poverty in our country, now we have a War on the Poor. Two examples come to mind.
One is in Colorado, where a school district takes nutritious hot lunches away from any student if the student’s parents are behind three days in payment to their child’s lunch account. The student gets a cold sandwich and a carton of milk instead. According to some reports, the hot meal is thrown away. Apparently, the idea is to force the parents to keep up their payments by humiliating their child at school and feeding them substandard meals.
Another example is closer to home for me, where the state legislature of Missouri decided not to expand Medicare and Medicaid benefits, which would have gone to the state citizens most medically at-risk. I was in the state capitol lobbying for the programs the week it was up for a vote, and the pleas and arguments for the programs fell on deaf ears. One state senator told me, “There is no reason for someone to be without medical care. The law says that if they present themselves to an ER for help, they must be treated”…which is precisely the problem – ER’s jammed with primary care patients – but he fails to understand that. Fails, or refuses.
We keep food away from our children and medicine away from our sick, as businesses continue to cut benefits and hours and government continues to make it harder for workers to organize. It is said that all empires exist on theft and slavery, and this is looking very much like a low-grade version of theft and slavery under the guise of “free enterprise”.
During the Johnson administration of the early 1960’s, the president and much of Congress came to the conclusion that the US, arguably the richest country in history, had no excuse for the way millions of its citizens lived in third world poverty. Johnson declared a “War on Poverty”, and instituted a number of social programs to lift the poorest of us out of the morass.
The Big Lie about the War on Poverty is that it was a failure that exacerbated the problem, not solved it. This is not true. Nearly half a century later, we know that it was very successful. It did not fail as much as it was killed by those who opposed it; a death by a thousand cuts. Now that the War on Poverty has been defeated, its opponents are moving on to make war on the poor themselves. They hope to “starve them back to work”, so to say – but there is no work available that can support a family. Like taking a nutritious meal away from a kid and handing her a cheese sandwich, we tell people to go to work and hand them non-sustainable jobs. It is a cruel, cynical Catch 22.
At a press conference last week, Mayor Slay of St. Louis announced his support for a minimum wage of $15/hour in the city. A young supporter there spoke about her problem finding an apartment in the city, for any applicant for an apartment must earn three times the amount of the rent to qualify as an acceptable resident. In a city where the rent starts at $600/month, this means that you need to earn $1800/month. Gross monthly pay for a minimum wage job is about $1275/month. Essentially, as a minimum wage restaurant employee, she cannot live in the city where she works.
Imagine what is going through the mayor’s mind: “Workers who staff businesses in my city can’t afford to live here. Where do businesses in my city find employees so they can stay open? What kind of future does this make for my city?”
The terms used to describe the poor by some people are things like “moocher class”, and “parasites”. They claim that when we destroy their safety nets and the poor fall further down the abyss of poverty, that the “lazy” are getting what they deserve. Yet the Bible says, “Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.” Proverbs 17:5. It also says, “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40.
A war on the poor is a war on Jesus. A war on the poor is a war on our brothers and sister in the Kingdom of God. We cannot stand on the sidelines, watching. We must stop the war. We can stop the war by no longer vilifying the poor, start paying them a livable wage, and supporting their access to education and primary medical care. And, finally, the rest of us can start paying our real fair share of taxes and consumer costs instead of shifting them onto the backs of the poor by way of municipal court scams and substandard wages.