Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK and leader of “Nuns on the Bus,” tour has written an op-ed for the On Faith section of The Washington Post’s website. She says:
While I applaud any political candidate who puts the interests of the middle class ahead of the privileged class, we need to acknowledge that at this critical time in our nation’s history, 46.2 million people live in poverty. We’ve heard more angry talk about how threatened cutbacks might impact a fictional TV puppet than we have over how it will affect actual families living on about $250 a week.
When one candidate dismisses 47 percent of all Americans as “victims,” while his vice presidential pick dubs them “takers,” it’s time to shake off the stigma and recognize the true faces of the struggling Americans among us: returning veterans unable to find a job or too traumatized by their war experiences to look; senior citizens burdened by high healthcare costs and struggling to pay their grocery bills; men and women who have to settle for low-wage part-time work without benefits because they can’t find a full-time job; people who can’t make ends meet working for minimum wage. Many have paid their fair share of taxes throughout their working lives, taxes now funding government programs helping them retrain for new jobs, pay the rent and put food on the table. To them, “government” isn’t a dirty word, it’s a saving grace.
Income inequality has soared to the highest levels since the Great Depression. Yet productivity at many companies is climbing alongside profits – in part because company leaders made a business decision to keep wages and benefits low in order to keep costs down. Those profits aren’t making it into the hands of working poor Americans. In fact, many of our nation’s hard-working citizens don’t earn enough to pull themselves out of poverty – never mind into the middle class. Programs like food stamps aren’t luxury items like Pay-per-View or Caribbean vacations, to be easily cut from our family budget. In too many households, they are an absolute necessity. What greater American value can there be than making sure all people in the most prosperous nation on earth have enough to eat?
Why can’t we force political leaders to take the concerns of people who live in poverty seriously? This is a profound failure of moral imagination. But we seldom seem to make any progress in this regard.