I’ve been listening to The Uncertain Hour by Marketplace’s Wealth and Poverty Desk. This season, they’ve taken a deep dive into the United States’ welfare system and the consequences of welfare reform in the 90s.
The podcast provides a great introductory education about American poverty, a topic where opinions are strong and facts are frequently scarce. Interviews with families receiving cash welfare benefits reveal the daily compromises and anxieties which are the lived reality of America’s poor.
Equally disturbing, however, are the interviews with the middle and upper class people who maintain political control of America’s welfare system and the profound contempt for the poor which suffuses their conversations about poverty and welfare.
It’s easy to understand why we have failed to develop a coherent, evidence-based system for addressing poverty in America when you listen to these people and realize that their primary goals are to shame and punish the poor for daring to seek joy or create life, actions that lie at the core of our common humanity.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth pushed back on the prevailing idea that poverty was God’s punishment for sinfulness. Today, in a country where nearly half of the population claims loyalty to his Good News, we remain in this punitive mindset.
I am biased in this conversation because my daily work brings me face-to-face with the suffering that poverty creates, the shorter and sicker lives the poor live out in the midst of abundance. But I truly believe that if our anti-poverty initiatives were crafted by people with direct experience with poverty and designed specifically to promote joy and reduce suffering in our fellow human beings lives that they would be radically different than the systems we have today.