Profile of Poverty

Posted in social justice by Nathan Creitz on October 21, 2008
Mr. Butch was a well known street performer in Allston, MA. He died July 12, 2007. His absence is still felt to this day. Image courtesy of <a href=This post is the first in a two part series on poverty. This first post seeks to understand the desperate need of the homeless and our collected complacency to do anything about it. The next post is linked at the bottom and will help reveal some practical steps we can all take to alleviate poverty locally and globally.

The City

To begin with, what is that status of poverty in the city? According to the UN (.pdf), Approximately half the world’s population now live in cities and towns. In 2005, one out of three urban dwellers (approximately 1 billion people) was living in slum conditions. According to the US Census Bureau the top 10 poorest cities in America are the following (with % living below the poverty line included):

1. Detroit, 32.5%
2. Buffalo, 29.9%
3. Cincinnati, 27.8%
4. Cleveland, 27.0%
5. Miami, 26.9%
6. St. Louis, 26.8%
7. El Paso, 26.4%
8. Milwaukee, 26.2%
9. Philadelphia, 25.1%
10. Newark, 24.2%

What about America?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau: “The official poverty rate in the US in 2007 was 12.5%, that is, 37.3 million people were in poverty. The Observer states, “America is the most unequal society in the industrialised West. The richest 20% of Americans earn 9 times more than the poorest 20%.”

A Global Crisis

Citing facts from World Bank, author Anup Shah writes an article for stating that 80% of the world lives on less than $10 US Dollars per day (based on purchasing power parity, PPP). The children especially get hit hard with 1 billion of the 2.2 billion children in the world living in poverty. According to UNICEF, nearly 30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”

Out of Control Spending

What is most disturbing about the issue of poverty is that around the world only about $5.6 billion dollars is being spent to ensure that water and sanitation services are available to all. Contrast that with the $9 billion dollars spent at Starbucks each year. Of course, Starbucks is very environmentally and ethically responsible, and they are creating lots of jobs around the world. Still, it leaves me feeling like those who are growing the coffee because of our indulgences and high taste are basically begging for scraps from the master’s table. The point is not that Starbuck’s is evil (I buy a frappuccino occasionally, and their donuts are amazing) but that our priorities are completely misaligned.

Take another example: Only about $13 billion dollars is being spent to ensure that people around the world have basic health and nutrition but $780 billion dollars are being spent for militaries around the world. With just 2% of military spending we could more than double our global spending on health and nutrition initiatives. What’s more essential to a person’s health: food and medicine or guns and bombs?

So why do we not live within our means? Why do we not give to those in need? How can we expect to be a country blessed by God when we refuse to live justly, seek mercy, and walk humbly with Him? I didn’t crunch the numbers but I wonder what it would be like if the richest 10% “tithed” 10% and bought food or medicine or clothing or shelter or education for the poorest in our country? Not to pick on Starbucks but what if we reduced our consumption by one beverage per week. At current prices, that would be $3-4 per week or about $200 per year. There are thousands of things we can do right now to help end poverty around the world.

Next Post: Spread the Wealth

Related Post: Main Street Solutions for the Economy


One Response

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  1. Edgar said, on October 22, 2008 at 10.14 pm

    I’m looking forward to the thursday article.

    In the meantime, Yesterday, USAToday ran an article about homeless and how it is affecting more people due to the current economic situation.

    Homeless numbers ‘alarming’

    The West has done great things with its way of life but there has got to be a medium in which we don’t buy the latest gadget, or starbucks coffee everyday but still contribute to the economic system.

    Not sure what that is.

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