U.S. Poverty

U.S. Poverty

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Deuteronomy 15:7

Over half of all Americans will be poor at some point in their lives.[1]  Millions of people in the United States and billions around the world live their entire lives with inadequate incomes, unable to develop their God-given talents or even thrive at a minimal level. Great musicians never pick up an instrument. Gifted teachers don’t finish high school. Wonderful writers can barely read. Potential nurses, lawyers, business leaders, and scientists are caught in the trap of poverty and we are all the worse for it. In recent decades it has become harder, not easier, for a child in the United States to rise above their parent’s socio-economic level, and upward mobility is less common in the United States than in other major industrialized nations.

Poverty is not inevitable. In a rich world and in this incredibly rich nation, the poor do not have to be with us always. The eradication of poverty is possible.

In the United States, poverty declined dramatically twice in the post-World War II period. Between 1959 and 1973, the poverty rate fell by half (from 22.4% to 11.1%) due to low unemployment, rising wages at the bottom and middle of the income ladder as well as at the top, and the War on Poverty.[2]  After 1973, the poverty rate rose and has never again attained such a low level.

However, there was one other time in the post-WWII period when poverty declined markedly. Between 1993 and 2000, over just seven years, the poverty rate declined sharply, from 15.1% to 11.3%. The fall was driven by low unemployment and rising wages for those at the bottom of the income ladder as well as the top. Since then, unemployment is up and wages in the lower rungs of the economic ladder have fallen or stagnated. Poverty has risen. But if the U.S. economy were to again experience low unemployment and rising wages in low-wage jobs, poverty would undoubtedly fall once again.

Recent history shows we can dramatically reduce poverty. If we choose, we can even eliminate it through strong social supports and economic policies that support all of us.

UCC General Synod Resolutions and Pronouncements

For the Common Good (General Synod 25, 2005): Fair taxes, need for public institutions and services, full employment, living wages, adequate income for each one, affordable housing, public transportation.

To advance the cause of the most disadvantaged in the budgetary and appropriations process (General Synod 25, 2005): Support progressive taxes, oppose cuts in social programs.

More information and ways to engage

[1] Rank, Mark and Thomas Hirschl, “The Likelihood of Poverty across the American Adult Life Span,” in Social Work 44:201–16.

[2] Economic Policy Institute, “Poverty no longer falls as economy grows,” from State of Working America, accessed June 25, 2011. http://www.stateofworkingamerica.org/charts/view/236)

Contact Info

Edith Rasell, Ph.D.
Minister for Economic Justice
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115