America's Growing Poverty Crisis Must Become a National Priority

America's Growing Poverty Crisis Must Become a National Priority

The promise of America has been that if you work hard, you can provide a better life for yourself and your family. Unfortunately, too many people in this country are working hard but falling further behind with the dream of a better tomorrow deferred by the reality of poverty.

Today, more than thirty-seven million Americans live in poverty a shocking number for one of the wealthiest nations in the world. And the number is rising, with increasing numbers of individuals and families not having enough to eat, living without health insurance, and unable to find a decent place to live.

In short, poverty in America is a moral and social crisis one that threatens the health and economic well-being of both families and the nation as a whole.

Through their work in providing help and offering hope to more than 7.4 million people each year, Catholic Charities agencies in communities across the country have been coping with a steady increase in demand for emergency assistance, primarily among working families. Each day, our agencies serve families who work hard but still do not earn enough to provide for their basic needs.

That's why Catholic Charities USA has launched the Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America, with the goal of cutting the nation's poverty rate in half by 2020.

We will continue, of course, to help families meet their daily needs, but through this new campaign we also plan to advocate for changes in public policies that will help lift Americans out of poverty once and for all.

Good government is about making choices and setting priorities that serve the common good, and we can only succeed in this endeavor with the active participation of Congress and the administration. Only through partnerships between government and community-based organizations will we develop the capacity to attack poverty in a comprehensive and sustained way.

Therefore, we are urging Congress and the administration through policy decisions and budget actions to protect and expand programs that provide needed health care, affordable housing, nutrition assistance, and economic security for the poor and vulnerable. And we intend to hold elected officials accountable on how their actions support these goals.

The many budget choices that Congress and the administration make each year about what is funded and how to pay for it should be judged by whether the dreams and dignity of American families are protected. What we are seeking will require a sustained commitment to addressing the needs of those living in poverty. The causes and affects of poverty did not develop overnight, and it will take an ongoing effort to cut the poverty rate in half by 2020. But while ours is a long-term goal, we believe it is imperative that Congress and the administration begin now to demonstrate a renewed commitment to the poor.

Working together, government, the faith community, low-income families, social services groups, the business community, and others have the resources, experience, and knowledge to dramatically reduce poverty in this country. What we have lacked as a nation before now is the required political will to do so.

In the final analysis, this is about who we are as a nation. We must no longer ignore growing inequality and the injustice of poverty. We must, instead, seize this opportunity to promote changes that help to end the crisis of the poor, promote human dignity, and benefit the greater good. Our future depends on it.

After serving for more than five years as executive director of Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis the largest private provider of social services in the Twin Cities the Rev. Larry Snyder took the helm of Catholic Charities USA in 2005.