2010 Religion Stories with Urban Impact — 4

The Religion Newswriters Association polled over 300 journalists specializing in reporting on religion for its Top Religion Stories of the Year 2010. Huffington Post’s Religion page also posted its picks for Religion’s 10 Most Influential People in 2010. My picks are the stories about religion that directly impact urban life, not just in the US, but in many parts of the world. I will post my picks a story or two a day for the next few days.

Be sure to come back, read and comment. What are your picks for the 2010 Religion Stories with Urban Impact?

4.     Poverty

Signaling the sharpest annual increase in three decades a US Census Bureau report published on September 16, 2010 noted that based on statistics up to 2009, one in seven or 44 million Americans now live on or below the poverty line. Analysts predict next year’s figures will be even worse.

The recession battered those on the bottom most heavily, adding 6 million people to the ranks of the officially poor, defined as just $22,000 in annual income for a family of four. That figure includes one in five children, and over 51 percent of female-headed families with children under 6.

Rev. Graylan Hagler

Watch Rev. Graylan Hagler, Pastor, Plymouth Congregational Church, Washington DC address this question.

A closer look at the numbers reveals the story of who has actually been hit the  hardest (see Policy Link’s Equity blog for graphs)

  • More than one in four African American and Latino people are below the poverty line
  • Latinos saw the biggest jump in poverty (2.1%)
  • Biggest drop in real income was among African Americans and non-citizens (4.4% and 4.5% drop, respectively)
Prof. Peter Edelman

Georgetown University law professor Peter Edelman who for nearly 50 years engaged in a battle against poverty,  offered testimony before the Senate subcommittee on Children and Families on November 18, 2010. In his testimony, worthy of our deeper reflection, he points out that 19 million people are now living in “extreme poverty.” He identifies three groups:

  1. The first is the astonishing number of people who live in extreme poverty – with incomes below half the poverty line, or below $8,500 a year for a family of three. In 2009 this number climbed to 19 million people, or 6.3 percent of the population, but it had crept up from 12.6 million in 2000 to 15.6 million even before the recession began. Our safety net for such people is riven with gaping holes. Six million people now have income only from food stamps – and food stamps provide an income at only about a third of the poverty line. Welfare is virtually nonexistent in many states, and is of little help in many others.
  2. The second group are those whom we call poor, whose income in 2009 was below about $17,000 for a family of three and about $22,000 for a family of four. While there is a sense in the country that the poor are somehow a group that is separate and apart from everyone else, this is by and large not true, says Edelman. A large percentage of families with incomes below the poverty line do work. They have seasonal or sporadic or part‐time work and even full‐time jobs, and a hefty 61.6 percent of their income comes from work or self‐employment.
  3. The third group is those who are not poor by any measure and would reject any label in that regard, but who nonetheless face a continuous struggle to make ends meet every month. These are people who have to decide whether to go to the doctor when they are ill (even if they have health coverage, due to
    the expense of paying the deductible or the co‐insurance). Reams of research suggest that this group is composed of people with incomes up to twice the poverty line. It constitutes nearly a third of the population – more than 100 million people. The focus of our public policy needs to be not just poverty,
    but all lower‐income people who are having such a difficult time.

The World Council of Churches’ AGAPE (Alternative Globalization Addressing People and the Earth) Process and its program Poverty, Wealth and Ecology has focused sharply on the growth of poverty across the world, and the growing income disparities in many countries. In a statement to a UN Hearing on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in June, the WCC stated:

“The WCC remains profoundly concerned that the global financial and economic crisis – which continues to wreak havoc on economies including in the Euro zone – has thrown tens of millions more people into poverty, swelling the ranks of the disempowered, hungry, thirsty, unemployed, sick and homeless, and further derailing the achievement of the MDGs. At this stage of the crisis, many countries are being forced to adopt stringent fiscal policies that imperil economic recovery as well as social and ecological protection – at a time when such protection is needed most.”

In addition a Buddhist-Christian dialogue on Structural Greed which Dr. Martin Sinaga (Lutheran World Federation) and I (WCC) organized in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in August addressed this question. These Buddhist and Christian leaders in a statement entitled “A Common Word on Structural Greed” stated:

Prof. Paul Knitter, Cathy Cornell, Dr. Martin Sinaga, Ven. Mahinda Deegalle at the Chiang Mai Consultation on Structural Greed

“We, Buddhists and Christians, observe that one of the primary reasons for the global financial crisis is that over the past centuries economic processes have been progressively motivated and structured by the goal of maximizing profits for capital owners and thus monopolizing the world market. Following the great recession of 1929, political regulations to control this tendency were instituted. The dismantling of these regulations a few decades ago resulted in an environment for the unbridled explosion of personal and structural greed, leading to a debt and mortgage crisis, to unparalleled disparities between the super-rich and those who go hungry every day and to the accelerated degradation of the environment.

“We, Buddhists and Christians, acknowledge that as individuals and religious communities we participate intentionally or unintentionally in seeking benefits from this system of personal and institutional greed and so have been complicit in its devastating effects. At the same time, we acknowledge our responsibility to learn about, resist and seek to change the system that destroys the lives of large numbers of mostly poor people in the world.”

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