“One paycheck away from significant economic hardship...”

“Today millions of American families...are one paycheck away from significant economic hardship! Lose that paycheck and they lose their hold on security...There are some who would exploit the situation to drive a wedge between the poor and non-poor.”
Sargent Shriver | Estes Park, CO | October 12, 1980

Our Quote of the Week highlights one of the cruel realities for those who are struggling economically: that there are those who seek to exploit this struggle for their own advantage.

Sargent Shriver spoke these words in 1980 during his Address at the National Meeting of the Campaign for Human Development. He talks about how helping the poor would help all of us:

“The trick today is to convince the non-poor in the USA that they are helped when the poor are helped! And, even more important, that they are helped when they participate personally in helping the poor. Preferring the poor sustains the rich; participating with, living with the poor, ennobles the rich; creating communities of both rich and poor would fulfill our national purpose and save the country.”

Shriver also makes the point that as times change, the way we deal with poverty needs to change, as well.

“Our world and our nation are currently undergoing fundamental, inevitable structural changes that will mean readjustments for all of us. And our approaches to poverty and inequality in the years ahead will have to change, too. More of the same will not work. We need, in effect, a new politics to deal with poverty -- a politics grounded not in a nostalgia for the 60’s, but rather in a growing understanding of the possibilities of the 80’s.”

Given his central role in shaping how the United States dealt with poverty in the 1960s, this is a powerful acknowledgment on Shriver’s part. It demonstrates that he was not tied to approaches that had worked in the past, but was always seeking to find the most suitable methods to tackle challenges as complex as poverty.

After outlining some of the areas where our public policy does not do enough to help those in economic hardship -- employment, income, housing, energy, tax policy -- Shriver then makes the point in our Quote of the Week, that millions of families are “one paycheck away from significant economic hardship”. To add insult to injury, Shriver points out that there are those who exploit the divide between the poor and the “non-poor”.

We know the examples of those who exploit the poor all too well today: they are the opportunistic politicians who decry social programs and ignore the calls for the wealthiest to pay their fair share of taxes; the financial institutions that charge exorbitant interest rates and fees to those who can least afford them; the employers who pay workers meager wages while hiring them to take on grueling and sometimes dangerous tasks; the landlords who charge high rents for dilapidated housing. In 2023, the economic turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbated by the persistent inflation it has wrought, continues to impact millions of families. The latest “Economic Wellbeing of US Households” Report issued by the US Federal Reserve shows that in 2022, 63% of respondents reported that they would not be able to cover a $400 emergency expense with cash. We still have too many families who live on the verge of an economic calamity, and too many institutions who find opportunity in their distress. This reality calls for a renewed effort to combat poverty, one that includes some concrete changes to our policies and protections as well as an expansion of economic opportunity.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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