What We Truly Can’t Afford

“I don’t think that our country can have 20% of its people for whom the American Dream has become the American nightmare. We can’t afford, no matter who is president or which party is in power, to have one fifth of our nation who don’t see themselves as participating at all in the tremendous advances that have been taking place in our country. Our national unity must be founded on shared opportunity.”
Sargent Shriver| Reading, PA| April 16, 1964

Our Quote of the Week underlines the fact that we cannot afford to have a society in which many have no access to the economic opportunities that others of us enjoy and take for granted.

Sargent Shriver gave this Address to the YMCA in April of 1964, while he was Director of Peace Corps and shortly after President Johnson had appointed him to lead the War on Poverty. In the speech, Shriver draws parallels between Peace Corps, which was successful and was continuing to expand, and the War on Poverty, which was still in the exploratory stages and whose programs had not yet been implemented. Shriver makes the point that both of these initiatives were important because, like the YMCA, they were based on the principle of service. He says:

It is an effort at any rate to produce a program which is constructed in the national interest. And both of these programs are patriotic not in a nationalistic sense of patriotism but in a sense to service to your country and service to your fellowman.

It is in this context that he articulates the importance of tackling poverty.

As we continue to deal with COVID-19 in 2021, we are seeing a pattern we’ve seen before: in moments of crisis, the poor are disproportionately affected in every possible way. Not only are people without adequate access to health care more likely to suffer long-term effects or to die from the virus, but the economic fallout from the pandemic continues to wreak havoc for those who can least afford it. Increases in unemployment, a rise in homelessness, even the escalation in gun violence, all of these impacts of the pandemic have made the necessity of addressing poverty in our time even more urgent. Our commitment to programs that empower individuals, like those of the War on Poverty, are important, as are our support of new legislative initiatives like the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan.

Many things may have changed since Sargent Shriver spoke these words in 1964, but some crucial things remain the same: we must tackle poverty with urgency, with creativity, and with the same service-oriented mindset that Sargent Shriver had.

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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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