By Pastor Amy Little

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Poverty is complex issue for all families who live without enough to survive. For those of us who live more comfortably in the middle class, we may not fully understand the causes (and effects) of poverty. Our basic instincts sound like, “Why don’t they just go out and get a job?” Or, “Why are they so lazy?” But these comments are off the mark in many cases.

There is not just one reason why a family is stuck in the cycle of poverty. Of course there are the individual behaviors and circumstances that can thrust a family into poverty, or keep them there. These are such things as credit-card debt, teen pregnancy, illness, disability or divorce to name a few. But sometimes it can be caused by businesses moving out of a region and taking valuable jobs somewhere else. The Greater Norwalk area has seen this happen in our recent history!

A lesser known cause of poverty is the exploitation of individuals, families and the community at large. In this case, such culprits are sub-prime mortgages, employment or labor violations in the workplace that keep people from increased success, drugs and alcohol that plague some people, day labor being the only source of income for workers (especially when there is very little of that available – think of Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”), and payday or title lenders who prey on the poor.

Finally, another cause of poverty is political and economic structures at organization, city, state, and national levels. Those who are in the wealth class are the ones who create the policies for providing for the poor, and yet wealthy lawmakers really don’t have any idea how their policies affect the impoverished. They’ve never been there, or if they have, they forget what it was like to try and make ends meet on a minimum wage job. Healthcare costs play a huge part in this aspect of poverty in that insurance is not affordable making healthcare financially inaccessible. Even with a basic insurance plan, the cost of deductibles and copays make doctor’s visits a last resort, as people know if they go they will end up with a huge bill no matter what. They don’t get the same care that those who have good insurance do, and so illness and disease go largely under-treated or untreated altogether.

So what can we do?

  • Become educated about the truth of poverty.
  • Put our judgments aside and be a part of the solution.
  • Treat every person, no matter their social or economic status, as fellow human beings.
  • Explore the hidden rules of the classes of poverty, middle, and wealth.
  • Encourage agencies and institutions to stop enable dependency and start empowering people to “Get Ahead.”
  • Encourage individuals to enroll in one of the United Fund’s twice-annual Getting Ahead Workshop.
  • Invest in a person by mentoring someone who is in poverty as they seek to move forward and move ahead.