Multiply Justice

The poor in mind

Janie B. Cheaney writes in World magazine:

American poverty in the 21st century is not primarily a matter of income or opportunity. It’s more a state of mind.

… Social observers are concerned about the creation of a permanent American underclass. It consists of an increasing number of individuals who don’t marry, don’t pursue an education, and lack the ability to set long-range goals. Ruby Payne, in A Framework of Understanding Poverty, isolates certain values common to the lower class, such as an almost tribal obligation to share everything with blood kin, and an acceptance of short jail terms (for oneself or a relative) as normal. … Illogical behavior among the disadvantaged is well known to relief workers: Men may work hard at a new job, then quit, or just stop showing up, as soon as they’ve paid the month’s rent. Moms will feel it’s perfectly reasonable to blow half a welfare check on a lavish baby shower for their unwed daughters.

When the U.S. government declared War on Poverty in the 1960s, it was gunning for the material kind. But other kinds are much more devastating. The authors of When Helping Hurts identify four kinds of poverty, including poverty of being that lives for the moment and doesn’t see a broader world beyond its narrow experience. Shoveling resources their way with no accountability only exacerbates the problem.

This doesn’t mean that churches can’t help; on the contrary, churches are the best qualified to help. Moreover, we’re commanded to help. We just need to be wiser in how we go about it.

Read the full article here [subscriber content].

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