The End of Poverty
John Edwards concluded his Presidential campaign yesterday, but not before securing pledges from Obama and Clinton that they would make the ending of poverty central to their presidential campaigns.
I am not being sarcastic, and I'm not being a smartass here. I know that poverty exists in America. I, and my family, devote a fair amount of time and money in charitable endeavors. I take my obligation to help those less fortunate than me very seriously.
But can somebody tell me what will the end of poverty look like? How will we know we are there?
Jesus Christ said that we will always have the poor with us; there certainly will always be people less well off than others, whether in material goods, looks, popularity, power and influence, piety-- whatever a group of people value. But eliminating the classification of "poor" among us isn't ending poverty.
So what is it? When will we know there is no more poverty?
Do we use U.S. standards, or global ones?
21st Century standards, or 5th?
Have we reached the end of poverty when every child can go to school? Or does the school have to be of a certain level?
When every person has enough to eat? Eat what? 800 calories a day? 2000? Steak? Rice? Water or Coke?
How about when everyone can get medical treatment? Do emergency rooms count? Clinics? Or just Board-certified private physicians? We don't have our dead poor piled like cord wood in the village square as was once the case. Is that the bar over which we need to jump?
Child labor. Are we free of poverty when children aren't forced to work in factories and fields for their families to survive?
Has poverty ended when everyone has access to books and computers? Do they have to own their own, or do the public libraries count?
Transportation. Cars for everyone, or does mass transit count?
Housing. Private homes? Apartments? Shelters?
Water. Clean from the tap OK, or need it be bottled?
TV? Radio? DVD's?
Is there a list of items that people need in order to be considered out of poverty?
As opposed to many of the people reading this blog, I've seen the face of the modern poor. I truly believe that whatever the cause, most poverty in America is the result of people who can't cope in a complex modern world, and therefore resort to drugs and alcohol, or have mental illness, or are who are ill.
A lot of poor people can't seem to get out of their own way, and make what others may think are irrational choices. People who have babies they can't afford, who drop out of school, who quit jobs because they are inconvenient, or who waste precious resources on tobacco or gambling or on unnecessary consumer items (like cell phones, for instance). The top grossing fast food franchises are invariably in poor neighborhoods.
I'm not blaming American poverty on the poor. I'm not. I recognize that a high school graduate working at minimum wage could have the tightest budget known to man and she still isn't going to live the type of life Americans have become accustomed to. And I agree that it's more than unfortunate that there are a lot of people who are working, and working hard, and are living paycheck to paycheck. I grew up in that household.
It's just that we have in place a system, flawed and cumbersome though it is, which provides for the basic needs of humans. Everyone in America, with few exceptions, can get an education, shelter, food, medical care.
I believe it is our duty to see that that those basic needs are provided better, with more dignity, with no exceptions. I think there are conservative ideas out there that can help us on that road-- vouchers, workfare, medical savings accounts, etc. Want more affordable housing? End rent control; make it easier for landlords to evict tenants. The result will be more people willing to invest and become landlords.
But that begs the question. Regardless the road we choose to take, be it a conservative path or a liberal one-- at what point will we consider people out of poverty? Can somebody tell me. Not platitudes like "when every person is living in dignity and without fear" or some other claptrap. I can't measure that, and unless we figure out how to achieve some communistic land of perfection, where everyone is robotically equal, we will always have different strata in society. The poor will always be with us.
So, please somebody tell me-- What does the end of poverty look like?