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Rev. Gregory Seal Livingston Headshot

Why Americans Ignore the Poor

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On the front page of the June 15th edition of the Chicago Tribune are the words, "Hunger doesn't go on summer break." Of course this is referring to Chicago Public Schools being out for the summer. The article raises the question as to where will the 84% of Chicago Public School children who receive free breakfast and lunch eat during the summer?

There are summer feeding programs in Chicago and around the country that do a wonderful job. At my last pastorate we fed children every day during the summer months with meals subsidized by the government and private support. Our involvement in feeding so many children however gestated a strange and disturbing truth: Urban populations across this country don't have enough food to eat in a country that pays farmers not to grow food.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a Huffington Post article entitled, "Attacking Hunger at its Roots." Her article deals with hunger as the devastating global issue that it truly is. But do you know that 15 million children in the USA will go hungry this summer? Probably not. In America, we rarely like to talk about our own poor -- we would rather talk about the poor children in other countries, the ozone layer, the price of gas...anything but the reality of our nation's poverty.

There is not much media attention or even political attention for the lines which have doubled in number at food pantries around the country, or for the 15 percent increase in families seeking food stamps in this year alone.

What is this reason for this? Why isn't urban poverty an issue that Americans are willing to get behind and champion?

Americans blame the poor. Not only do impoverished families have to suffer hunger pangs, they also have to suffer accusations from those who believe poverty is their own fault. Many people tend to see poverty as a result of laziness, and they resist taking any communal responsibility for the hungry children in their own communities. Poverty is a vicious cycle that most people are unable to escape. It is often a situation someone is born into, not a situation someone "creates" or a situation for which they should be blamed.

America's businesses turn a blind eye. Mom and pop stores, liquor stores, and bodegas are a dime a dozen in our poor communities, but where is Dominick's, Jewel, Kroeger etc.? Big name grocery stores with affordable food and reward programs are not located where they are needed the the nation's impoverished communities.

America's hungry children do not have a voice. In our country, it is more common to hear about needy animals in shelters or needy children overseas than to hear about the hungry children in our own communities. Urban poverty is a rarely discussed issue in Washington, one that has no voice or political spearhead behind it.

Until the pangs of the hungry begin to forge our moral platitudes into political "will" that structurally develops effective, radical urban policy that understands poverty as bad business and a sin, the cycle of poverty will continue and our children will go hungry for yet another summer...fall, winter and spring.