I have been wrong about lots of things in my life, but I have never been more wrong about a topic than about poverty.
For years I’ve been on the political right side of this argument. Poverty, I would have told you, is a problem that can be fixed by people taking personal responsibility for their lives, and setting out to take control of life. Recently having been unemployed, I got a first-hand look at what it takes to get a job. I’ve been struck by how much of my ability to find employment has been based on things totally outside of my control.
I am employable because I can read, write, do arithmetic in my head, and conduct myself well. But all of those characteristics happened as a result (not a necessary result, but a direct one nonetheless) of me being born into a certain family, in a certain socioeconomic setting. Sure, I had to apply myself and learn, but the road was pretty easy. I slept through high school and still landed in one of the best colleges in the nation.
My ability to comprehend complex subjects, my ability to pass tests, and my personality and people-skills? All by grace. I didn’t do a thing to deserve or create those things. So it’s really easy for me, from my comfortable suburb with my bachelors degree, to decry impoverished people for “not trying hard enough.” It’s easy, and it’s probably the least helpful thing I could do.
I’m not coming with answers, so much as an encouragement for those of us who are so quick to try and apply our trickle-down Reaganomics as a way to alleviate poverty to step back from the situation and admit that it is far more complicated than we originally posited. Also, I’d like to strongly recommend the book “Ministries of Mercy: The call of the Jericho Road” by Tim Keller, (that’s not an affiliate link, I don’t get any money when you click it) as it is the catalyst that has so rocked my boat recently.
What do you think?