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Reflections on Poverty

Family Economic Security

Susan Engel Catholic Charities Kansas City, Missouri

Catholic Charities USA Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America has four main priorities: to reduce hunger, to ensure universal health care coverage, to foster family economic security and to create more affordable housing. The purpose of this reflection paper is to provide Catholic Charities employees, volunteers and others the opportunity to become better acquainted with the Campaign to Reduce Poverty and discover new possibilities for action at the local level concerning the issue of family economic security. The method employed is fairly simple. Participants take part in a process that involves a series of prayer moments, information on Church documents and Catholic Charities USAs Poverty in America, reflection questions, and group discussions. 1

Opening Prayer
Canticle of Praise
Leader Group 1 Group 2 Group 1 Group 2

I acclaim the greatness of the Lord, I delight in God my savior, who regarded my humble state. Truly from this day on all ages will call me blest. For God, wonderful in power, has used that strength for me. Holy the name of the Lord! whose mercy embraces the faithful, one generation to the next. The mighty arm of God scatters the proud in their conceit, pulls tyrants from their thrones, and raises up the humble. The Lord fills the starving, and lets the rich go hungry. God rescues lowly Israel, recalling the promise of mercy, the promise made to our ancestors, to Abrahams heirs for ever. Give praise to the Father almighty, to his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, to the Spirit who dwells in our hearts for ages unending. Amen.

Group 1 Group 2 Group 1 Group 2 Group 1 All

A Reading from the Prophet Isaiah (Is 45:8) Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the skies drop it down. Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let justice also spring up! I, the Lord, have created this. The Word of God

Brief Pause
1 Canticle of Praise (Magnificat) from The Liturgical Psalter: Text for Study and Comment, 1994 by the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. (ICEL). All rights reserved. For reprint permission, write: ICEL, 1522 K Street NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20005-1202.

Intercessory Prayer
Leader Let us pray for People of God, that our love of neighbor may be a consequence of our faith, a faith that becomes active through love. (silence) Leader All Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.


Let us pray for our nation, our state, and our civic community, that desire for the common good may overwhelm concern for advantage and personal gain. (silence)

Leader All

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader Let us pray for the poor, the homeless, the unemployed and the underemployed, and for all who live in fear of economic insecurity. (silence) Leader All Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.


For what else shall we pray? (Others may offer requests for prayer, after which may follow.)

Leader All

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader All

Lord, remember us in your Kingdom, and teach us to pray: Our Father For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Family economic security is a peace of mind that one has the means of managing any life event and maintaining stability of housing, income and ability to provide for ones family. Economic security can be achieved through employment that brings a living wage and the gradual acquiring of financial assets such as a savings account, owning a home, or retirement investments. Economic security is the result of qualifying for a well-paying job and sound management of personal finances. Those who are economically secure can repair a broken car needed to get to work or pay for preventive health care or medical treatments that sustain life. Those who are economically secure have the satisfaction of housing and feeding their children and assuring their good education, as well as certain luxuries such as new clothes, movies, and vacations, from time to time. What about those who are poor or economically insecure? What is it like to work hard, but never seem to make ends meet? What is it like to worry that the next bill or unexpected circumstance will force a decision between paying the rent, buying food or getting gas to get to work? Poverty can be an endless loop of hard work and stress that takes its toll on health and relationships. How do those living in poverty find a way to push the pause button on the never ending crisis and begin to imagine a peaceful and secure life? The Catholic Charities USA 2006 Policy Paper on poverty notes the growing inequality between the haves, the economically secure, and have-nots, the economically insecure. The overall picture of our economy is one in which those at the top are making substantial gains, those in the middle are treading water, and those at the bottom are sinking. For example, in 1998 (the latest year for which figures are available) the top 20 percent of the population held 83 percent of the total net wealth in the country, while the bottom 80 percent held only 17 percent of the net wealth. Our nation has not seen such extreme inequality since the 1920s. The gap is growing at rates that historically are almost unprecedented. (p.13) The following section will lead the participant through an exercise noting real differences between the haves and the have-nots. Participants will then reflect on the shared responsibility of the economically secure and insecure to promote just policies to assure that all have opportunities for a dignified life. Within the community of believers there can never be room for a poverty that denies anyone what is needed for a dignified life. (Deus Caritas Est, #20)

The Haves and the Have-nots: a practical reflection

[NOTE: The following exercise can be done individually or in a group. The instructions assume a group setting. Individuals would develop a low-income and upper-middle-income budget.]

This exercise explores the disparity between the haves, the upper-middle class and economically secure, and the have-nots, the poor and economically insecure.

Participants divide into groups (the haves and the have-nots) and develop a budget based on the income of the group. The budgets should include fixed expenses (rent, utilities, food, transportation, health care) that are covered by the established income. Incomes are based on the following estimates that assume one or two parents and two children. Pick one income category for the haves and one for the have-nots. 4

Haves: Two-parent, single-income family Two-parent, dual-income family Single-parent, single-income family Have-nots: Two-parent, single-income family Two-parent, dual-income family Single-parent, working income Single-parent, minimum wage Single-parent, government assistance

Income $125,000 $150,000 $80,000

$30,000 $40,000 $25,000 $12,168 $3,500

The chart below can be used to note the fixed expenses.

Budget Item Rent/Mortgage Utilities Food Health Care Child Care Other: Other: Other: Other: Other: Budget Amount Income/Running Balance

Was it hard to develop a budget for the family? If so, why?

You have just developed a budget assuming only fixed costs. What happens when unexpected expenses are introduced? Pick one of the following scenarios and find a way to pay for this unexpected expense. Car broke down ........................................................................... $500 one time Child developed a chronic health problem ...................................$100 monthly Lost a job .............................................................. zero income for three months Furnace went out in the winter time......................................... $2,000 one time Gas prices go up..............................................................................$50 monthly

How did you manage to cover this expense? Were you able to continue paying the fixed expenses? How did you feel trying to make the income cover all of the expenses?

Determine the cost of living increase incurred by unexpected expenses by dividing the expenses by the income. For example, a $50 increase in monthly gas expense is 5% ($600/$11,000) cost of living increase of the family earning minimum wage but only a .5% ($600/$125,000) for the two-parent, single-income family.

The haves and have-nots should report the answers to these questions separately. Did you cover the unexpected expense? Was there enough income to cover the fixed and unexpected expenses? What was compromised to pay for the unexpected expenses?

Catholic Social Teaching on Economic Security

If the process above is representative of real life, upper-middle-income Americans are likely to sacrifice savings, eating out, or delaying vacations or home renovations when expenses exceed income. Lowincome Americans may be forced to decide between paying for rent, utilities, food and medicine when expenses exceed income. Daily sacrifices made by low-income Americans are in stark contrast with their right affirmed by Catholic social teaching to meet their material needs. The Catholic Charities USA 2006 Policy Paper, Poverty in America: A Threat to the Common Good, further explains, Catholic social thought includes a strong moral critique of extreme inequality in the distribution of wealth and income. This teaching also says quite explicitly that it is not morally acceptable for a society to allow extreme inequality in the distribution of goods as long as there are some in the society who do not have the most basic material goods to lead a decent life. (p.8) The paper then quotes Pope John Paul II who refers to personal property (financial assets that allow for economic security) as a social mortgage, the goods of the earth are meant not just for ones personal benefit, but also for the good of society. This long-standing teaching of the Church suggests that those who have excess wealth have a special responsibility to contribute to the common good by helping eradicate poverty. In his apostolic letter, A Call to Action, Pope Paul VI put it this way: In teaching us charity, the gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due the poor and special situation they have in society: the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others. (p.8) What does rebalancing of economic security mean for the haves and have-nots?

Based on your own experience, the process above, or the quotation below, place yourself in the mind of an upper-middle income American and answer these questions: [NOTE: The following exercise can be done individually or in a group.] If someone who has the riches of this world sees his brother in need and closes his heart to him, how does the love of God abide in him?[21] It is well known how strong were the words used by the Fathers of the Church to describe the proper attitude of persons who possess anything towards persons in need. To quote Saint Ambrose: You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich.[22] That is, private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditioned right. No one is justified in keeping for his exclusive use what he does not need, when others lack necessities. In a word, according to the traditional doctrine as found in the Fathers of the Church and the great theologians, the right to property must never be exercised to the detriment of the common good. If there should arise a conflict between acquired private rights and primary community exigencies, it is the responsibility of public authorities to look for a solution, with the active participation of individuals and social groups. (Populorum progressio, #23) 1. How do you experience stress in managing economic security? 2. What is your reaction to the idea that you need to give up some of what you have so that others may have what they need? 3. What are some of the ways you could lead your life differently so that others have what they need? Based on your own experience, the process above or the quotation below, place yourself in the mind of a lower-income American and answer these questions: Therefore everyone has the right to possess a sufficient amount of the earths goods for themselves and their family. This has been the opinion of the Fathers and Doctors of the church, who taught that people are bound to come to the aid of the poor and to do so not merely out of their superfluous goods. Persons in extreme necessity are entitled to take what they need from the riches of others. Faced with a world today where so many people are suffering from want, the council asks individuals and governments to remember the saying of the Fathers: Feed the people dying of hunger, because if you do not feed them you are killing them, and it urges them according to their ability to share and dispose of their goods to help others, above all by giving them aid which will enable them to help and develop themselves. (Gaudium et spes,#69) 1. How do you experience stress in managing economic security? 2. What is your reaction to the idea that others need to give up some of what they have so that you may have what you need? 3. What are some of the ways you could lead your life differently so that you could fulfill your responsibility to provide for yourself and your family? 7

Action Steps to Realize Economic Security

Catholic social teaching not only addresses the expectation that material needs are met, but it also lays out some means to this end. One significant component is that responses to poverty or economic insecurity should not create or reinforce dependency rather the Catholic response should embrace the empowerment of the poor. In Centisimus Annus for the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum Pope John Paul II says: Love for others, and in the first place love for the poor, in whom the Church sees Christ himself, is made concrete in the promotion of justice. Justice will never be fully attained unless people see in the poor person, who is asking for help in order to survive, not an annoyance or a burden, but an opportunity for showing kindness and a chance for greater enrichment. Only such an awareness can give the courage needed to face the risk and the change involved in every authentic attempt to come to the aid of another. It is not merely a matter of giving from ones surplus, but of helping entire peoples which are presently excluded or marginalized to enter into the sphere of economic and human development. For this to happen, it is not enough to draw on the surplus goods which in fact our world abundantly produces; it requires above all a change of lifestyles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power which today govern societies. Nor is it a matter of eliminating instruments of social organization which have proved useful, but rather of orienting them according to an adequate notion of the common good in relation to the whole human family. (#58)

1. What are the direct service programs that avoid dependency but rather empower low-persons to achieve economic security? 2. What can you or you agency do to empower the poor? 3. What are the public policies that impact economic security? [HINT: affordable housing, child tax credit, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Earned Income Tax Credit, living wages, Individual Development Accounts/Spire Accounts.]

Closing prayer
Just and loving God, You sent forth your Word among the peoples of the earth, To teach us your ways, To plant seeds of justice in our hearts, And to establish your Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Let the work of Justice we have learned Take root in our lives, Flower in solidarity with the economically poor, And bear fruit in deeds that are just, So that your Kingdom of Peace may show forth in this world And hasten the day of Christs coming in glory. We ask this through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas est, USCCB: Washington, DC, 2006. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 1991. Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 1966. Paul VI, Populorum progressio, 1967. Poverty in America: A Threat to the Common Good. Catholic Charities USA: Alexandria, VA, 2006.