Newly released U.S. Census figures indicate that the poverty rate has risen to 15.7 percent from 15.1 percent in 2010. This is the highest poverty rate since 1965 as now more than 46 million Americans live in poverty. As unemployment grows across the nation, poverty especially among children, continues to grow at a rapid pace.
The long-term forces thwarting many Americans from raising themselves out of poverty are a challenge. They include globalization, automation and the decline of private-sector unions. In an election season, a forthright discussion of these issues might be too much to hope for. Yet few topics could be more pressing. The needs of those who are hungry, homeless, those who can’t find work or who live in poverty, should come first. As Congress continues to debate these choices, our message as both citizens and Catholics must be consistent and constant. Protect programs that assist people living in poverty at home and abroad.
Spending decisions must protect human life and dignity, not only across the world, but here at home. The needs of those who are hungry, homeless, without work or in poverty should come first. Form a circle of protection around essential programs that provide life’s basic needs. This includes domestic “safety net” programs and poverty-focused international assistance. Last October, in his “Address on the Occasion of World Food Day 2011,” Pope Benedict XVI stated that “Liberation from the yoke of hunger is the first concrete expression of the right to life.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has joined with the Holy Father in emphasizing that food is a fundamental human right. The USCCB also urged Congress to form “a circle of protection” around programs that serve hungry, poor and vulnerable people. In their recent letter, the U.S. bishops wrote that they “stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, advances the common good, and promotes human life and dignity.” The time has come for our political leaders to heed the prophetic voice of the bishops and begin to hear the cry of the poor.