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The Persistence of Poverty

December 2, 2010

I drive almost daily through the poor section of town, down OBT.  I see young children unattended, perhaps going to school, perhaps not.  I see men and women wandering around, some perhaps to sell their bodies, others to sell drugs, or spend their welfare dollars.

My heart goes out to them and I want to help, which begs the question, what is help?  Herbert Hoover once said that “poverty will end with this generation.”  Okay, he meant for white people since he was a racist, but that hope has been wagging out there in the hearts of politicians and middle America.  Hoover (when he was Secretary of Commerce) had a vision for volunteerism making a difference and thought it could be applied to the poverty problem as it had for natural disasters.  The eventual result was growing Hoovertowns, tent cities of the poor.  He was followed by FDR who decided only the government can help.  Since then, every president has built programs that never made a dent.

The taproot of poverty is institutionalized helplessness, hopelessness, and despair. Government programs cement that trifecta by giving money to people who have no idea how to use it well and either strip them of what little dignity they have or burden them with feelings of entitlement.  Free education programs go unattended (“what do I need school for? It isn’t going to help.”)  Handouts without accountability feed for a day while funding even greater chains to poverty.

Worse, the skills for surviving on the streets and in the slums are not just incompatible with work/business environment, they’re hostile to it.  Clawing out of poverty is a Herculean effort rarely attempted by the poor.  The vicious cycle perpetuates with each generation; the hopelessness continues.

Just enough poor have succeeded, but their testimonies affirm this theory.  At some point they decided getting out of the slums meant changing who they were, building skills and divesting others.

Our Constitution prohibits the Darwinian approach (as it should).  The Eugenics crowd (the founder of Planned Parenthood, for one, Tesla for another) said either prevent the poor from procreation—sterilization or abortion—or relocate poverty-children to wealthier families.  Obviously wrong on many levels.

The government throws money at the situation which simply doesn’t work.

Corporations have held free work-skill seminars and few attend.

The only solution—inefficient and often ineffective—is mentorship and the Church.  The poor are poor because they are poor.  Unless their heart, attitude, and willingness to change become engaged, changing their circumstances will have no effect. At the root of every human depravity is the individual’s heart.  Hate to quote Michael Jackson, but every poverty-stricken person must begin with the “man in the mirror.”  While it is incumbent on each of us to help, the poor must first recognize that they must change before any help given from without can make a difference.  It is not a child’s fault they are poor, but it is the adult adult’s fault if they abide in poverty.

Clearly, we must give a hand up, not a hand out, but the poor must first reach to that hand.  Some will say we must preserve their dignity; I disagree.  Dignity comes from rising to a challenge.  Acknowledge complicity in poverty; looking humbly to those who can help isn’t weakness, it’s wisdom.

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