Sunday, December 29, 2019

Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor

A Short Story by John Cheever
December 1949

Christmas is a sad season. The phrase came to Charlie an instant after the alarm clock had waked him, and named for him an amorphous depression that had troubled him all the previous evening. The sky outside his window was black. He sat up in bed and pulled the light chain that hung in front of his nose. Christmas is a very sad day of the year, he thought. Of all the millions of people in New York, I am practically the only one who has to get up in the cold black of 6 a.m. on Christmas Day in the morning; I am practically the only one.

He dressed, and when he went downstairs from the top floor of the rooming house in which he lived, the only sounds he heard were the coarse sounds of sleep; the only lights burning were lights that had been forgotten. Charlie ate some breakfast in an all-night lunchwagon and took an Elevated train uptown. From Third Avenue, he walked over to Park. Park Avenue was dark. House after house put into the shine of the street lights a wall of black windows. Millions and millions were sleeping, and this general loss of consciousness generated an impression of abandonment, as if this were the fall of the city, the end of time. He opened the iron-and-glass doors of the apartment building where he had been working for six months as an elevator operator, and went through the elegant lobby to a locker room at the back. He put on a striped vest with brass buttons, a false ascot, a pair of pants with a light-blue stripe on the seam, and a coat. The night elevator man was dozing on the little bench in the car. Charlie woke him. The night elevator man told him thickly that the day doorman had been taken sick and wouldn’t be in that day. With the doorman sick, Charlie wouldn’t have any relief for lunch, and a lot of people would expect him to whistle for cabs.

Read it all here.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Anxiety About New Poverty Guidelines

Steve Liss's photo reveals the abject poverty of the most vulnerable Americans. 

Though difficult to measure, poverty debilitates and robs people of a sense of value. How will the poor fare under new policies that are coming?

The Trump administration has been exploring alternative inflation measures to deal with the problem of poverty. Under a better measure of inflation, the poverty level would grow slightly less each year.

Writing here, Senator. Bob Casey and Indivar Dutta-Gupta point out:

The National Center on Children in Poverty created the Family Resource Simulator to illustrate the impact of work supports, including income tax credits and child care assistance, offering a more complete picture of how family resources change as earnings increase. NCCP suggests families typically need nearly twice as much as the official poverty level to make ends meet thanks to factors like rent and utilities, child care, health insurance premiums, out-of-pocket medical expenses, transportation, debt and payroll taxes. The Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budgets, MIT’s Living Wage Calculator and the University of Washington’s Self-Sufficiency Standards all came to similar conclusions.
Simply put, the common, necessary expense categories not fully accounted for in the official poverty measure means the costs we all face are substantially higher than what it implies.

The US Census Bureau dropped its annual load of statistics on American poverty and the data shows Americans were no better off in 2018 than they were in 2017. 2.3 million more people snagged full-time jobs and the official poverty rate fell half a percentage point. However, fewer people have health insurance, there is still not parity between men and women's earnings, and middle-class incomes hardly budged.

During President Donald Trump’s second year in office, income from safety net programs such as food stamps and housing subsidies kept 47.7 million people out of poverty. That’s 2.8 million more people compared to 2017.

Whatever policy and guideline changes come, poverty will continue to haunt many Americans, especially the most vulnerable. Relying on the government does not dispel anxiety. More service organizations, churches, synagogues and mosques should consider should identify the poor in their communities and befriend them in a way that restores dignity. As Mother Teresa advised, "Do not wait for leaders; Do it alone, person to person."

Related reading: Paid Parental Leave for Federal Workers; A Cynical Way To Make People Poor; A Cynical Way to Make People Disappear; US Government 2019 Poverty Guidelines

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Motivation to Serve the Poor

The December topic at Ethics Forum is poverty and serving the poor, for as it is said, "Tis the season of giving."

During the holiday season we are asked to donate to charities and many good causes. On "Giving Tuesday" we are solicited online. The Media reports on projects to feed the hungry and clothe the homeless. Charles Dickens' novella "A Christmas Carol" appears in various renditions on television to remind us not to be greedy and to take care of the less fortunate.

Sadly, the focus on caring for the poor is rarely sustained beyond December. Perhaps this is why Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you." (Matthew 26:11)

Helping others requires motivation beyond the cheery mood of the holidays. It needs to be profitable in some way to the giver. What profits you depends on what you value.

In monastic communities that are called to serve the poor the reward is knowing the community's mission is being fulfilled. In corporate environments with charitable foundations a similar reward can be felt. However, most of us do not live in monastic communities, nor are we in the position to endow through charitable foundations. Many of us live on the edge of survival ourselves and sharing with others can be a true sacrifice.

Sacrificial giving can be a reward to those who recognize the value of sacrifice. Those who do not recognize the value of sacrifice usually defer to government agencies to take care of the poor. That is the attitude of Mr. Scrooge who was approached by the charity collectors.
"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."
"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.
"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."
"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

Later, the Spirit of Christmas Present mocks Scrooge's insensitivity by hurling his own words back at him. That is part of Scrooge's transformation. Sometimes we need a mirror held up before us to reveal our true selves. May December show us what we need to be more caring toward our fellow human beings.