A Return to the Gilded Age?

PovertyThe Gilded Age of American history was dubbed so by Mark Twain in 1873, when he wrote “The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today” with Charles Dudley. The novel satirized and became synonymous with greed, graft, conspicuous consumption, and corruption by public officials. The book was so titled because of Twain’s perception that the pretty gold overlaid an ugly reality that the robber barons of the age ruthlessly profited from their business dealings at the expense of the working class and poor. Now we’ve returned to that age, as we have only twice in the last 100 years with new robber barons and their hubris, and the same problems of poverty that have left three million more children in poverty since 2008.

Nearly One in Four

22 percent of children are living in poverty, an issue with complex causes, compared to the 18 percent that were defined as poor in 2008. The Department of Health and Human Services defines the poverty line as $23,624 for a family of two adults and two children, and defines low income households as those who use 30 percent of their pre-tax income to pay for housing. Though these numbers are from 2013, and there has been some recovery since that time, we won’t know how the true impact of the recovery for some time. Moreover, the 22 percent figure only tells part of the story, since children in poverty are far more likely to be children of color. 39 percent of black children, 37 percent of Native American, and 33 percent of Hispanic children are impoverished, while only 14 percent of white or Asian/Pacific Islander children fall into that category.

We Need Reform

Nelson Mandela said that like slavery and apartheid, two of the world’s most monstrous injustices, poverty is a man-made construct, and requires the actions of humans to ameliorate it. Poverty in childhood decreases literacy and high school graduation rates, decreases the opportunities to receive appropriate and timely medical and dental care, and increases the chances that the child will enter a cycle of unemployment and poverty as an adult. We need to support the future of these children as a nation buy supporting their families in the present. We need to support policies that help, instead of demonizing the poor as the source of our nation’s troubles instead of a symptom of them.

The Wisdom of Pope Francis

The Holy Father in his Apostolic Visit said that when it comes to those who govern and are responsible for children, there should be no excuses for inaction. However children do not vote, nor do they lobby, and they don’t donate obscene amounts of cash to PACs. They are always invoked when there is the latest moral panic to address, but handed a pair of metaphorical bootstraps when it comes to addressing their needs. They don’t need billionaires wafting around of rafts of money, they need to eat, to sleep in safety, to learn, and to grow. In short, they need the adults of the nation to hold their representatives accountable for the cries of a hungry child.

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