Poverty in America. It’s bigger than you realize.

Yesterday, I was reading an article in the Huffington Post on extreme poverty in the US.

The statistics are staggering.

Last fall, the Census Bureau revealed a troubling statistic: A full 6.7 percent of Americans, or roughly 20.5 million people, were earning less than half the official poverty rate — a category generally known as “extreme poverty.” For a family of four, including two dependent children, that would amount to an annual income of about $11,000 or less.

Nearly half of all Americans who are considered poor at all fall into this category.


That is mind-boggling to me.

I’m not going to go over the entire article; you can read it, and I hope you will.

But the article brought several things to an overflowing boiling point in my mind. Things that I’ve had swirling around in my head and have tried to capture and put to words over the last several months. Yet I’ve continually felt both incapable and inadequate of attempting.

I still feel both incapable and inadequate of attempting, but I’ve come to realize that that is part of the problem.

Why bother?
My voice won’t matter.
How can one person make a difference.
I don’t know enough to back up my thoughts in a heated discussion.

And that attitude does nothing to offset the alternative drumbeat of those screaming for the poor to “just stay in school” and “get a job”.

I’ve been poor. As a college-educated adult, with children.

But I’ve never gone hungry for days.

Millions of children and adults do daily.

When you are hungry, not much else matters.

One of my student teaching practicums in college was at a school that butted up to a trailer park in rural WV.

I came in doe-eyed, with big ideas of what I wanted to teach the children and what I wanted them to learn.

One day, early on, as I was sharing my ideas and lesson plans with the classroom teacher, she looked me straight in the eye and said: “You have a lot of great lessons there. But you need to know this: these kids don’t care one bit about the environment or recycling.

They are worried their mama won’t be home when they get out of school. That dad’s kicked her out. Or whether they’ll have any more food in their stomachs between now and tomorrow.”

Stunned, I gathered my emotions and resolved to rethink my plans.

Fast foward 18 years, 4 kids, and a million life experiences later.

I get what that teacher told me. I’ve lived some of it.

I hear her words ringing in my mind.

Yet those children are still forgotten and overlooked.

They are in your child’s class.
You sit next to them at traffic lights.
Their mother’s wait on you at the grocery store.

They are in a cycle they can’t easily escape. Yet we sit on the sidelines judging and condemning them as lazy, ignorant or less-than.

That does nothing.

In fact, it’s that very attitude that has made me, a once upon a time, (very) conservative Christian, reconsider so much of what I think in terms of policies and politics, moving me further and further away from the “here’s a $50 bill” party I’ve long belonged.

It no longer seems adequate or appropriate to look away and wait for others to take care of it, while chipping away at their help and assistance.

I’m looking to be part of the solution. To show love to someone who desperately needs it.

20.5 million people in America are waiting for that.

And the change starts with me.

“He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker” (Proverbs 17:5)


  1. Hi Karla:

    I often write about this kind of stuff because I am an educator, and I see the children who have been raised in poverty.

    I am upset by the decisions our government has made in choosing to spend billions of dollars in overseas wars when so many need help here at home.

    I know our national security is important, but what does this say to the people of our own country and their value? It is discouraging.

    And what about the sharp divide between the haves and the have-nots. The ones out renting expensive dresses to wear ONCE to fancy parties. I wish I had the answers. Either that or a wad of cash.

    • Renee – this has been part of a long journey for me. I’ve apparently ‘mislabeled’ myself all my life (possibly intentionally?? maybe for self-preservation… Most likely: forgetting to think for myself…) and I’m returning to my roots, with my tail tucked between my legs, but on fire none-the-less.

      The sharp divide is getting deeper and deeper.

      Answers… I’m seeking them…

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