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  • Jack H. Bender

Seeing Poverty

Last week I suggested that poverty is often invisible to us (tent cities). On the flip side, poverty can be highly visible. During a recent excursion to Chicago, it was impossible to miss panhandlers in the middle of the sidewalk, with raised voices, shaking a cup partially filled with coins. It was impossible to miss people sleeping in doorways. I felt the disconnect of a 17.4% tax on the hotel room while people were begging outside of it.

Once we see poverty, can we come together and act?

Closer to home, we see people on bicycles with bags of returnable cans. We see people heading for free lunch at the seminary. We notice a loud, falling-apart vehicle at stop lights. Our newspapers usually have one or more articles on poverty-related topics (Shelter Prepares for Winter Spike in Guests). Our web pages do as well (Government Cuts Advertising for ACA Enrollment, City Closes Homeless Camp). Only slightly behind the headlines of GM layoffs is the future prospect of many of those families falling into poverty. Poverty surrounds us. All we have to do is see a little more clearly.

1. In contrast to every life activity that we do, we must come to see the counter narrative of the poor:

2. While we buy fresh and organic produce, the poor experience food insecurity.

3. While we have access to all forms of dental care, the dental solutions for the poor are tooth extractions.

4. Pricing for cultural events is out of reach for those experiencing poverty.

5. While our home mortgages fit comfortably in our budgets, rent may take 50% of a family’s income (30% is recommended max).

6. While we run errands in a car in good repair, public transportation soaks up the discretionary time of the poor.

7. Charter schools have created separate and unequal educational experiences.

8. Some national and state government officials that have health insurance are intent on denying health care to others.

9. When we take deductions for college tuition and mortgage interest, the poor cannot take advantage of those perks.

Two areas that speak deeply about being human are rarely mentioned in the media. First, while we may pursue our dreams and exercise our talents, the poor are in constant survival mode and cannot reflect on or operationalize their dreams. Second, while we have the satisfaction of giving to others, the deep needs of the poor seriously compromise their ability to give. Poverty attacks what it means to be truly human and overwhelms any narrow definition, such as “lack of money.”

As always, the question for us to ponder is “What shall we do about radical inequality?”


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