When was the last time you dug through the couch cushions for loose change in order to put gas in your car?
When was the last time you dug through the couch cushions for loose change in order to put gas in your car? Had oatmeal for dinner because it was the cheapest meal you could afford? Had to decide between paying a utility bill or buying groceries? Or didn’t purchase a medication that your doctor prescribed because you couldn’t afford it?
Like many I have skirted the edges of poverty as a young adult.
My first child was born while I and my husband were still in college, and we often subsisted by eating oatmeal and Jiffy corn bread. I was “homeless” for a brief period after flood waters surged into my home, submerging my red VW Bettle. I didn’t own much back then, but I mourned the loss of my car. It was difficult having to hitch hike around town with two small children until I had the down payment for another car. For awhile my kids I and lived doubled up with a girlfriend and her kids to share expenses.
Later on during graduate school, I was a “welfare mother” for two years. During the years since then, I repaid the government many times over in taxes as a high wage earner. Now that I’m retired and living on Social Security benefits, it’s not improbable that an expensive chronic illness and a long life won’t impoverish me or my husband, whoever lives the longest.
Poverty looks a lot different today.
So many unskilled jobs are only part time work at minimum wage. Even families with two working parents struggle to live on $15,000 year (before taxes). Many white-collar older workers who lost their jobs during the recent recession have emptied their retirement accounts to pay bills while at best working for much less, if working at all.
Then there are the college students with massive student loans looming over them whose college degrees haven’t resulted in meaningful job prospects. Many are filling jobs often reserved for unskilled workers. At the other end of the spectrum are the elderly, especially the widows. How do the widows manage financially after losing a spouse and the social security benefits that spouse had been receiving?
Today one in five children is in a household living below the poverty level - over 22% of the children in Butler County. Over 77 % of the students at local elementary schools qualify for free & reduced rate meals. I am thankful for the safety net that got me through the rough periods in my life. That’s community grace!
But not everyone has access to an adequate safety net, and many fall through the cracks. We might comfort ourselves with the faulty belief that today’s safety net is adequate to help today’s poor -- especially if we think we’re never ever going to need it ourselves. We can’t delegate the safety net to governmental offices and churches with ministries that help the poor among us and expect it to be adequate.
Everyone needs to step up to do their part in giving a helping hand where one is needed -- and I'm pleased to say a lot of people are doing that in our community. Because helping the poor is what Jesus would be doing if he were here today - and because our helping the poor in his name is what makes Jesus here today.