Saturday, October 2, 2010

The poor are with us more than ever

From thePhiladelphia Daily News
Figures released by the Census Bureau yesterday (full story on Page 31) show that poverty is the highest it's been since 1994...

At the same time, the debate over extending the so-called "Bush tax cuts" for the wealthiest Americans has highlighted a rapid and disturbing growth in income inequality over the last three decades. The richest Americans are gobbling up the biggest piece of the country's economic pie that they have had since the 1930s....

One in seven Americans - 43.6 million - was poor last year.

In reality, the true number of poor Americans is probably much higher. The government officially counts as poor a family of four with an income below $30,174, but the method for measuring poverty hasn't changed since 1963, and doesn't take into account soaring medical-care costs, transportation and child care....

No doubt that massive unemployment triggered by the recession has increased poverty, but there is another dynamic at work. Even people with jobs are losing ground. The wealth that has been created over the last 25 years by increased productivity hasn't trickled down at all. Wages either stagnated or declined.....

That richest 1 percent account for 24 percent of the nation's total income, the highest share since 1928, right before the Great Depression. That's nearly triple their 9 percent share in the 1970s....

FOR DECADES NOW, the plight of the poor has evoked not empathy but contempt from many ordinary Americans, who have identified more with the "haves" than the "have nots."

Apparently, they believed that, with hard work, anyone can strike it rich in America. The opposite is true. But without a reversal of the widening income gap, they simply can't get there from here.
What I don't understand is the so called "Christians" who justify this gap, who ignore it, who live in their expensive homes and vote for a party and platform that gives the poor a big FU. After readings like last week's, it's positively wilfiul to ignore the clear Biblical Christian imperative to Take Care of People, regardless of whether they "brought it on themselves". But they (the so-called "Christians" ) can spend money and effort attacking gays, sure, while stepping over the lepers at their own doorsteps.

It is astonishing to me.


JCF said...

More, it is the understanding of TPTB that run our economy, that "wages are for suckers" ("Cut 'em!")

No, it's understood that God/Adam Smith's Elect should profit on investment, not wages. You have to have, to get [Witness the proud proclamation of the GOP Sen. candidate from (of all unequal places!) West Virginia: "I made my money the old-fashioned way: I inherited it."]

In this (Calvinistic) view, it's better to be smart (crafty, even devious), rather than hard-working (esp. if the work is physical). God FAVORS the owner who cuts wages, busts union ("Godless Socialism"), outsources jobs [to heathen FIT for exploitation by God's elect!]

RC Social Teaching has been the exception to this . . . but even it is ignored by (otherwise Popoid) capitalists when it suits them (don't even TRY to hear it on EWTN!)

It seems like most Christians (in the US) don't even bother to consider Jesus's warning about "easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God." (Or the so-called "literalists" have ways to rationalize that one a way)

But this also a reason I remain a believer in Jesus: come JUDGMENT DAY, there's gonna be a reckoning!

it's margaret said...

Preach it IT, preach it! I agree.

Joel said...

Amen! And again I say Amen!

James said...

It' more than that, JCF.

In Calvinism, there is predestination.

The rich are rich because they are elect and God blesses them.

The poor are poor because God predestined them to be poor

It is not the "job" of "the elect" to interfere with this law ("Who am I to try to change the way God wants things to be??")

Calvinism is the backbone of the capitalist American economy and has been since the Puritans arrived and started sticking it to the American Indians.

Counterlight said...

Calvinism is the only form of religion that I'm aware of that blesses materialism.

I think the link between prosperity gospel and, say, the Ayn Rand crowd is supremacism.

Kevin K said...

I attended and was ordained an elder in the Presbyterian Church for the first thirty some years of my life. Your descriptions of "Calvinism" are not remotely what I experinced in a chruch steeped in the Calvinist tradition. Calvinists do embrace and endorse hard work and look with concern on windfalls and other types of "unearned" wealth. My mother, a Calvinist to the bone, believes that inherited wealth undermines a person, not makes them better.

Kevin K.

JCF said...

With all due respect, Kevin K (AND not knowing your mother): probably most US Presbyterians don't truly reflect the Calvinist ethos (I'm not even sure Calvin did!)

Probably the MOST "Calvinist" denomination in the US today, is the Southern Baptist Convention (but even among them, there are dissenters and outliers . . . and, well, moderates).

[And then, outside the US, there's Sydney (Hello, Obadiah!) ;-/]

Please don't take it personally.

Well, except maybe for this:

Calvinists do embrace and endorse hard work and look with concern on windfalls and other types of "unearned" wealth.

In the sort of Calvinist social ethic I disparage, AFDC (aka "welfare") is seen as "unearned wealth"! [Hence, the slur by our Calvinist President Ronald Reagan, "Welfare Queens"]

Too often, Calvinists see only their own wealth as "hard earned" and others barely-gettin-by hand-to-mouth cash as "unearned"---ignoring SYSTEMATIC burdens (not to mention plain dumb luck), esp. when the others are, well, "Other" ("Not Our Kind Dear": in terms of race, class, national origin, accent, etc etc etc)

But if you're not that sort of Calvinist, then again, this isn't aimed at you.

Kevin K said...


I am a bit touchy on this subject because a lot of Episcopalians throw out the term Calvinist in the same way I might use fascist or marxist-leninist. I do not think it is only Calvinists who tend to see what they have as hard earned and what others have as the result of good fortune.

What the Calvinists I know considered unearned was not charitable or social giving to people in distress. Such giving was and is to Calvinists a Christian duty.

Unearned was attached to things like a large inheritance or lottery winnings. These are considered bad for the recepient.

There was a time when people looked with great concern on a person who made a sudden fortune because the person had not worked sufficiently for that wealth.

Kevin K.

Fred Schwartz said...

Kevin K.,
Pray tell, what is your problem with a marxist?

JCF said...

I do not think it is only Calvinists who tend to see what they have as hard earned and what others have as the result of good fortune.

I'm thinking more about seeing what one has as hard-earned, and seeing what some OTHER has (even if what the OTHER has is grossly less than yourself) as ill-gotten . . . from YOU! (Or someone like you)

I'm talking about the Calvinist (Capitalist) problem w/ social redistribution. AS IF it isn't the good, proper and (above all) CHRISTIAN thing to do, for society (which we may call, yes, "The State") to take some tiny portion (really!) from the income of the wealthy (which we may call "taxation"), and redistribute it (usually by means of social services) to those w/ less.

The Calvinist/Capitalist sees this redistribution, as theft. (WTF???)

A proper, decent, Christian perspective, au contraire, sees such redistribution as "the common weal" (or the natural cost of living in a civilized society). Or just WJWD! ;-)

Fred Schwartz said...

Abovethe doors of the IRS building in Washington, DC (1111 Constitution Ave.) there is a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Taxes is the price we pay for living in a civilzed society." Too bad no one remembers this.

IT said...

What I find interesting is how many of the anti-tax crowd call themselves Christian.

Contrast with the Bishop of San Diego's recent view on taxes.

(I first became aware of Bishop Mathes when he not only advocated against Prop8, but wrote a moving editorial in sorrow at its passage, in contrast to the triumphalism of the RC bishops who were telling GLBT people to shut up and get over it.)

I quite like Bishop Mathes.

Kevin K said...


To answer your prayer, the expression I used was marxist-leninist. I have no fondness for marxism in general, as it seems an absurd model for social organization. More specifically, the problem I have is with the marxist-leninist propensity to use mass murder and totalitarian mechanisms to achieve their goals.

Kevin K.

JCF said...

What I find interesting is how many of the anti-tax crowd call themselves Christian.

Taxes, Bad. FEES, God-given! Pay up, or else---BURN!

"The fire department did the right and Christian thing [in letting a Tennessee man's house AND pets burn, for want of a fee :-( ] . . . critics of the fire department are confused both about right and wrong and about Christianity. And it is because they have fallen prey to a weakened, feminized version of Christianity that is only about softer virtues such as compassion and not in any part about the muscular Christian virtues of individual responsibility and accountability"

Heartless (and homophobic, of course) Bryan Fischer of the "American [Muscular, Compassion-Free] Family Association"

[@Kevin K. FWIW, do you see an improvement---over Marxist-Leninists---in the above? Because I really don't.]

IT said...

JCF, wow.

Kevin K said...


Yes I do. Marxist-Leninist would have been more likely to burn a house down with the occupants inside if they were class enemies.

Kevin K

JCF said...

Ah yes: the significant distinction to be made of a sin of commission, versus a sin of omission.

Glad you cleared that up for me!

{OK, that was a bit snarky. Sorry. Still, I disagree w/ your evaluation.}

Kevin K said...


It would shock me to the very core of my being if you didn't disagree with my evaluation.

I do want to clarify that I believe the comments you quote to be anti-christian. With this guy anyone lying near death in a ditch would have to wait for the local samaritan.

Kevin K