“Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise. (Luke 3:11)”
January is Poverty Awareness Month. The U.S. Bishops, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and Catholics in the United States are working together to address Pope Francis’ call to live in solidarity with those in poverty.
The statistics on poverty in the U.S. are staggering. The federal government defines a household living below the poverty line as those with a yearly income of less than $24,000 per year. This means that people earning the minimum wage or even those holding down several low paying jobs, workers living paycheck to paycheck who are suddenly out of a job, or seniors living on fixed incomes are all living in poverty, from rural areas to the inner cities.
According to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, 2016 statistics show that 13.8% of U.S. men and 16.3% of U.S. women were living below the poverty line. The rate for single parent families with no husband present is as high as 26.6%. 21% of disabled Americans, more than 4 million, are living in poverty. The poverty rate for children in 2016 was 21.2%, almost 1 in every 5 American children, a heartbreaking statistic.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development also finds that of those living below the poverty line, 6.7%, or 21.3 million Americans, live in deep poverty. This means that their income is below 50% of the poverty threshold. They also cite that 29.8% of Americans, 95 million people, live close to poverty.
Those living in poverty or close to it are struggling for the basic needs many of us take for granted, like shelter and food. The US. Department of Agriculture estimated in 2016 that approximately 15.6 million households were struggling to put food on the table. The National Center of Family Homelessness found in 2014 that more than 2.5 million U.S. children are homeless at some point during the course of a year.
The Voice of the Poor, the advocacy arm of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, identifies the issues critical to those living in poverty. VOP helps bring these issues to the attention of our elected officials, with the goal of government and communities developing strategies to reduce or eliminate poverty. VOP consists of members representing every section and demographic of the U.S., because poverty is far reaching and affects people in all corners of our nation.
Our elected representatives in Washington, D.C., have the ability to bring about legislation that can help the poor and needy members of society that St. Vincent de Paul Society serves. By informing our representatives of the statistics and stories of the poor and suffering that we serve, we can help those who are in desperation.
We are called to service by our Catholic values, and there are many ways that you can help to raise awareness and help those suffering from poverty. Join with St. Vincent de Paul Society to serve your neighbor as Jesus taught us, whether by working to make others aware of the need that exists to enact change, or by helping to provide the essentials, such as food, clothing, shelter or transportation. Act with compassion and love to provide hope to those who have none. See the face of Christ in every individual you encounter, even the homeless cowering in the street. Think of the children who do not know when they will eat next. Remember that there are so many who are constantly suffering, especially during these cold winter months.
The Saint Vincent de Paul Society of Philadelphia has many ways, customized to each local community for you to transform the lives of your neighbors as well as your own life. Like that of its founder, blessed Frédéric Ozanam, the vision of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul “is to embrace the world in a network of charity.” 000000