Poverty in the US has the face of James, 14, a thief for the State of Louisiana, deserving to go to prison. For the movement “Families and friends of convict children” he is a desperate adolescent helped in his rehabilitation process. James had stolen a car radio as a reaction to his grandmother’s death, his only point of reference, his only guide. After her death he had nobody left. Over 950 children and adolescents are detained in Louisiana prisons because the Federal law of the State authorizes arrest warrants of ten year-old offenders, a majority of whom are Afro-Americans from indigent families, punished even for having skipped school or for having stolen small items to be sold on the black market. Also Rita, 82, is a poor woman, widowed eight years ago. As a result to skyrocketing medical care costs and household expenses she became one of the 3.5 million old people living in extreme poverty. Carlos’ dream was to be a chef. Having finished his high-school studies he asked for a 60 thousand dollar loan to cover the Culinary Academy fees. Before the end of the first academic year he was already behind on payments despite a part-time job. He had to drop out of school and he is now working full time in a fast-food to repay a debt that has stolen his dreams.
In the United States, over 40.6 million people live in poverty, i.e., one in six Americans and one in five children. In 2015 two and a half million children lost their homes and became part of the homeless population. In 2016, over 30 million children availed themselves of the school program providing a warm meal to those living below the poverty line.
Figures collected in a survey conducted by the Agriculture and Food Safety Department, show that in the course of the year as many as 15.8 million households were food insecure, owing to lack of financial resources. In the month prior to the survey, 61% of respondents had resorted to Federal nutritional support programs.
The poverty threshold for a US family amounts to $ 24,000 a year, approximately $ 1900 a month.
While in some Countries these sums may appear more than sufficient, owing to the cost of living and unexpected expenses, notably for healthcare and education, millions of families are living on a knife’s edge.
Census Data found the highest poverty rates among the Afro-American population (24,1%), followed by Latin-Americans and Asians, while poverty among the white population amounts to 9%. The highest rates of economic distress were registered in Southern States: 2% of the population are poor in Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico, while 8 States including Texas and Michigan, that paid the highest price of the economic and financial downturn owing to the shutdown of oil refineries and factories, count 1.7% poor people every 100 inhabitants. Monsignor David P. Talley, bishop of the diocese of Alexandria, President of the Commission for the Campaign for Human Development set up by the Bishops’ Conference, pointed out that exclusion and indigence are daily challenges throughout the Country, but they are also “opportunities for true encounter with the suffering flesh of Christ and the Campaign is a concrete sign of Church solidarity and it constitutes a commitment to bring hope and the joy of the Gospel to our brothers and sisters in need.”
On the World Day of the Poor, wanted by Pope Francis, the proceeds of fund-raising in parishes will be donated to the Campaign’s projects that actualize the works of mercy, as well as to initiatives for the protection of workers’ rights and increased healthcare access.
During the Bishops’ Conference Assembly in Baltimore last November 14, the bishop of Venice, Mons. Frank Dewane, pointed out that the bishops “are defending the poor” also with regard to the tax reform drawn up by Congress, which, if adopted, risks jeopardizing “some of the programs for assistance to disadvantaged people and decreasing social services.” In this respect, the bishop called for the general involvement of members of Senate and Congress who should review their position. He underlined that his intention is not to “propose an alternative to the tax reform, but rather to concentrate on the condition of the poor, with special focus on healthcare access and on the federal budget.”
Poor people involved in Church programs have shown an incredible ability to recover, both at individual level and as a community, as in the case of a suburban area of Philadelphia, occupied by drug dealers and street gangs. Thanks to the Urban Tree Connection program, these abandoned strips of land became community orchards mostly run by grandmothers and youths, who created a healthy food-chain supplying the entire neighborhood with fresh fruit and vegetables. By regaining possession of a public area they created new jobs for young people and agricultural training programs. Nobody would have considered it possible ten years ago, but “small organized groups” changed their life and their communities.