I am all for volunteering abroad, along with the majority of Creighton students. In fact, I’m hoping and planning to do significant volunteer work (probably abroad) upon my graduation from Creighton. But I came across a statistic recently that worried me. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has the third worst poverty rate among the advanced nations. In that particular sample, only Turkey and Mexico rank lower. Our poverty rate is 17%. I realized that we had a big issue with poverty, but the numbers really shocked me. Now I’m not trying to be Uncle Sam, but we need you. Or shall I say, America needs us. America needs us to work at home to improve conditions for those in need.
In this increasingly globalized world, we are moving our charitable efforts overseas more and more. In theory, this is good. Many countries are in far worse condition than us, and I agree that they need significant aid. But what I don’t think is right lies within our borders. In a country as wealthy, advanced, and powerful as the United States is, there should not be people begging on the streets or dying because of lack of resources.
This is not, by any means, me attempting to preach and say that starving Americans are any more important than starving Africans. But what I will assert is that we have no excuse for it. We have the resources, but we aren’t sharing them. The wealth distribution in the United States is practically revolting, as 10% of the population owns nearly 72% of the wealth. Even more depressing is that the top 1% holds 38% of the entire country’s wealth. But we still have 43.6 million Americans living in poverty? This to me is absurd.
There are clearly two sides to this argument. The top percent of the population will argue that just because they have earned immense wealth does not give them the obligation to share it all with those in need. And there is logic to that. Unless we are planning on living in a socialist society (which I don’t see happening anytime soon,) then sharing evenly isn’t going to happen. But what I’m focusing on more is the idea that we should attempt to lessen the gap between the rich and the poor.
Forgive me, but I will get on my Biblical soapbox and bring in Luke 12:28: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Now as I, a “poor college student” reads this and tries to apply it to my argument here, I think: wait – I’m not part of that super rich minority that I’m spitting facts about. But this brings me to a new point: money isn’t the only thing that can bring change. For those of us who don’t control 38% of the country’s wealth (anyone with me?!), we have the opportunity and, I believe, the duty to make a difference in whatever way we can.
Look at why there are people living in poverty. Much of this is caused by labor-intensive jobs that don’t require a higher education. People who serve in these fields are not there because they wake up and think “I’d like to earn minimum wage today!” Rather, for a variety of reasons, this is the only type of job they can attain. But why? And what can we do about it?
Another situation: A family falls below the poverty line because the mother is the one out of every eight women to be diagnosed with breast cancer, and they cannot afford health insurance, let alone cancer treatments. So then the finger is pointed at the health care system.
Yet again: a family immigrates here from a even more impoverished country than our own, but falls straight in to the U.S. poverty pool because their Green Cards limit the type of work they can attain. The finger now points at immigration issues and rights of new Americans.
So what are we to do? It seems as though it is a never-ending to-do list: if we want to fix poverty in America, we first have to re-vamp the education, health care, and immigration systems?! Yikes.
In a way, this is all true. But what can we, as average American citizens (and especially as educated members of society who are privileged to be in the place we are) do to help?
1) Tutor. Creighton has so many opportunities to help children and adults who are determined to receive a good education. Donating your time to education is going to be worth a whole lot more than donating ten dollars to an education charity. Let that top 1% take care of the donating of money. A dollar lasts a second but literacy lasts a lifetime.
2) As for the health care issue, the most we can do to help if we aren’t the President, a member of Congress, or some other political official, is to become informed. Make sure you know (or rather, attempt to understand) how our health care system works (or doesn’t) so that when it comes time to vote on plans, we are informed citizens who can make decisions that will positively benefit the people who are directly affected.
3) Lastly, as for the immigration situation, it is much like the first two combined. Donate your time and efforts to helping new Americans become adjusted to a point where they can have just as much of a chance to prosper as the descendants of Abraham Lincoln do. Whether it be teaching ESL classes or donating old cars to refugee services, every thing you do makes a difference. It’s what we’re not doing that is making the problem worse right now.
Poverty was a problem. Poverty is a problem. And unfortunately, poverty will be a problem. But if Americans can re-dedicate themselves to mending the wounds of poverty on home soil, we will be better equipped to solving these transcendent societal problems all over the world.