August 30, 2004
Martin E. Marty
“Sharp Rise in Poverty Reported: Women, Children Hit Especially Hard” was the bold headline in the Chicago Tribune last Friday (August 27). William Neikirk, reporting on the U.S. Census Bureau findings, wrote: “Last year … 1.3 million more Americans were living in poverty than a year earlier,” and 35.9 million Americans are now in the ranks of the poor. “The number of people without health insurance rose 1.4 million to 45 million,” thanks, Newkirk wrote, to a bad job market and employers' policy changes. “It was the third straight year that the number of both the poor and the uninsured had gone up, largely the result of an economy that sank...”
David Leonhardt wrote in The New York Times: “The economy's troubles ... have recently hurt families at the bottom and in the middle significantly more than those at the top.” He quoted economist Sheldon Danziger: “We have had a generation with basically no progress against poverty.” The Wall Street Journal reported on these items, but it also ran two major editorials: “Health and Poverty” and “Poor Statistics.” Not to worry, soothe the editors: there were more uninsured and poor Americans last year because there were more Americans. That's basically that, for the WSJ. True, after some numbers-jostling, the editors admit that “there are some people with genuine difficulties obtaining health insurance.” But ... “there is no crisis of uninsurance.”
As for poverty? The Journal tells us that professionals and college grads did all right; “the only drop in earnings” went to those who did not finish high school. Who's to blame? The editors' villains are the teachers unions and politicians who don't help lower the dropout rates in inner-city high schools.
Sightings sights religion in the news, which we have not yet mentioned. For good reason: religious approaches to poverty do not make the headlines. Think of all the items you have read this election year about the chosen “social issues” of highly active religious groups; the ones that reached prime time and made headlines. Did any have “poverty” high on their agenda? I rechecked the “social issues” (by which we are to measure “religion” in this “faith-based campaign”) that made headlines. They are labeled: “School Prayer,” “Ten Commandments,” “Stem Cell Research,” “Partial Birth Abortion,” or “Gay Marriage.” Admittedly, some of these have some things to do with the Bible, the putative source book for religious political interveners. But:
Not satisfied with the invisibility of stories dealing with poverty and health, themes that match the most frequently raised concerns of the prophets and gospels, I went searching on the web. The National Council of Churches (www.ncccusa.org) reports on their rally of 800 people during a recent Boston political convention and announces their forthcoming one in New York. The stellar Pastor James A. Forbes was and will again be the speaker, this time on Tuesday. Will the effort get noticed? And in case you think evangelical groups all avoid these issues, click on www.sojo.net to see how the Sojourners people address the theme. They, too, do so, splendidly. It would be nice if secular-press reporters would pay more attention, thus making our task of “sighting” faith-based Bible-believers easier.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.