2008-10-15

blog action day - poverty

So, here we are at blog action day... I have to say it caught me a bit by surprise, despite the email reminders :)

I think poverty, like many other things in life, is hard to understand if you haven't come in direct contact with it. Like Derek Webb says, "Poverty is so hard to see when it's only on your TV or 20 miles across town." I think another important thing to understand about poverty, which also relates to many other things in life, is that it's not very useful to understand it as an epidemic or a problem or whatever, without understanding what it means to an individual person.

In light of the current economic climate, particularly in the US, I think it may be appropriate to discuss how poverty plays into all of this.

In a time when many Americans are starting to worry about having to cut back on their spending (that is, to not be able to drive a $30,000 car or max out 5 different credit cards), I think it's important to note that a financial crunch like this actually brings a certain section of the population to the point where it will be difficult or impossible to feed their families nutritious meals. The situation of healthcare has gotten even worse, as they are working jobs which don't provide health insurance for their employees, now there is really no chance they will start, and those people are in even less of a position to pay for doctors' visits on their own.

People are starting to see their current health insurance coverage decline or disappear due to the financial difficulties of the institutions providing the insurance, as well as the financial hardships of their employers, who are less willing to pitch in to cover the cost. This is distressing, as most people simply don't have the money to pay for expensive medical procedures on their own, and should something happen to them, they would be leaving their family unable to provide for themselves.

Due to rising gas prices, goods which are transported long distances are getting more expensive, public transit is raising prices to cover operating costs, it's getting more expensive to travel by car - a lot of things are becoming more expensive.

This is all discomforting and annoying for everyone - but for people who have been just making it by previously, this is alarming. They aren't worried about cutting back on frivolous purchases at department stores, they're worrying about how to put food on the table every day, how to get to work every day, etc.

I think it's important to see that the people in the lowest income percentages are impacted most heavily by economic fluctuations. A decrease in their income that would only cause a lot of grumbling from you, might cause someone else to have to make a serious decision about commuting to work by different means that cost less - that is, to actually drastically change their behavior. However, this also means that an increase in their income that would only elicit an unemotional "woo" from you, might also cause them a significant increase in financial stability.

I think for this reason, it's important to think about the possibility of giving up some of what you have to benefit others. In a time of political decisions, I think it's important to think about decisions you make and how they will effect *everyone* in society, not just your own income bracket. Don't just look out for your own interests, but think about how your decisions effect others.

Maybe we should start thinking about pushing our city and state governments to fully subsidize things like public transit, even if it costs us a little bit more in taxes, which we will hardly even notice in our monthly budgets, so that people who can't afford to drive a car will have a steady, reliable means to get to work no matter what.

Maybe we should start re-thinking what we can really call our 'rights' as people, and then think about how that effects the choices we make in terms of society, community, etc. Maybe some of those things we cling to are worth giving up for the benefit of someone else.

Options for acting to do something about poverty are all over the place. They exist in your town, city, state, and internationally. Go look for them. They exist in decisions you make every day. Be careful in how you vote. Give your time to help people. Think about how your daily choices effect people around you. Get to know people who are different than you.

We're all in this together, whether we like it or not, and every person who does well in a society benefits that society as a whole. Let's work toward that end.

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