US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Why are people in poverty being ignored?

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A new report focuses on underreported struggles of people in poverty. Our guest blogger asks how we will respond to this reality.

By Guest Blogger Stephanie Niedringhaus

It is discouraging for social justice advocates everywhere. While much media attention is focused on the Gulf Coast (worthy) and Lindsay Lohan (heaven help us), the real-life struggles of people in poverty go largely unnoticed.

Most politicians have a difficult time speaking about poverty because it is an unhappy reminder of some of what our nation doesn't do well. We like to believe that the United States is - across the board - a land of opportunity. Experts try to come up with new, more pleasing ways to frame the issue (e.g., focusing on the "working poor," as if people who can't find jobs are to be blamed for their poverty), but the sad truth remains that millions of people struggle to put food on their tables. Their voices deserve to be heard.

Because of our strong connections with religious congregations involved in direct service activities, we at NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, have been able to interview thousands of people who must turn to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other emergency facilities for help. What they have told us over the years is deeply disturbing, and the fact that their stories go largely untold in the media and on Capitol Hill is especially heartbreaking.

We hope that many will read our new report, TANF Tested: Lives of Families in Poverty during the Recession, which is based on our newest round of interviews, conducted in February and March of this year. Timed to help inform the debate in Congress during the upcoming reauthorization process for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), it tells real-life stories of people who struggle each day to care for their families.

In the course of the survey, an employee at a social service agency in the Bronx told us, "People who took the survey just accepted that it is part of life to have to go to food pantries and soup kitchens to survive... No one should have to go hungry in this country, but they do!"

We know we can do better as a nation to help people find jobs and become self-sufficient. We also know that the political will to focus on this need is not always there.

That is why it is so important for people everywhere to speak up. Our elected officials need to hear that providing people with fair access to education, job training, child care, transportation assistance, and other supports will not only help them become self-sufficient, but will also benefit our entire economy by providing a stronger workforce. They also need to know that no child deserves to grow up with poverty and deprivation.

Guest blogger Stephanie Niedringhaus is the communications coordinator for NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby. You can find their report on poverty online.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.