Jun 14

Poverty is "a disaster as ruinous as a tornado"

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 06/14/2021 1:51PM | Quote of the Week | War on Poverty


Our Quote of the Week reminds us that poverty must be tackled with intention and with urgency. As millions continue to struggle because the fallout from COVID-19, we must ensure that our systems protect those who are in danger of falling into poverty -- and we must support programs and organizations that help people overcome poverty's chronic and long-term effects.

At the 1964 American Red Cross Annual Convention, Sargent Shriver spoke in detail about the power of service as he had seen it embodied in the Peace Corps. He then turned to a discussion of the War on Poverty, which was, at that time, a new initiative that he was leading. He says: "If we have learned anything in the Peace Corps, we have learned that our aspirations, both at home and abroad, are cut from the same piece of cloth." He speaks of the distress and of the ubiquity of poverty, that it is "everywhere", and yet that those who are not forced to deal with it give it no thought, leaving the poor to deal with situations that are akin to large-scale, natural disasters. It is in this context that he makes an appeal to his audience, who are all affiliated with the Red Cross, that we must deal with poverty as we do with any emergency: we must come together to bring the emergency to an end, so that those who are dealing with poverty can lift themselves out of it.

It is undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has made poverty worse. According to the Center on Budget and Policy, "19 million adults live in households that did not get enough to eat and 10.4 million adult renters are behind on rent." Job losses, particularly in sectors that already have low wages, have been devastating, and despite the fact that the economy is recovering, "there were still 7.6 million fewer jobs in May 2021 than in February 2020". And, according to a report by HUD, in 2020 "roughly 580,000 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States," including almost 172,000 people in families, 34,000 people under 25, and 37,252 veterans. And a pattern emerges among all of these figures, which is that Black, Indigenous, and other people of color are over-represented among those struggling.

In this moment of crisis, we must support policies and programs that foster empowerment and resiliency in economically vulnerable populations. We have a rare opportunity to, in the words of the President, "build back better", by providing tools and resources so that those on shaky economic ground can find stability and opportunity. The programs of the War on Poverty, Head Start, Job Corps, Community Action, VISTA, Legal Services, and Foster Grandparents, can and do continue to serve those in need at every stage of life. And there is much more we can do in the public and private sectors. From fighting for equality to expanding employment to implementing policies for family leave and sick leave and to insisting on fair wages, we can make many adjustments that will ensure that our collective future is more sustainable and more prosperous than our present.

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