Notes from the Old Noank Jail

The Poverty Line

by Ed Johnson

On Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 7:00PM, a film and speaker program was hosted for 50 guests at the Noank Baptist Church by Reverend Doctor Paul Hayes on the subject of Poverty in America. Primary speakers included David Baird of the CT Council of Churches and State Senate Chaplain, Lisa Tepper Bates of MASH and Cathy Zall of New London Homeless Hospitality Center along with CT Senator Andrew Maynard and Representative Elisa Wright.

The program began with a 40 minute film, "The Line," which featured four individual cases involving poverty in various US locations, as well as presenting some disturbing statistics. The US has:

(a) $46 million people living in poverty, 3rd highest in the world behind Turkey and Mexico;

(b) 7 million people holding down two or more jobs at minimum wages;

(c) 1 in 4 children...25% of our kids... living in poverty;

(d) and 70% of major retail employment now being classified as part-time.

Poverty level is described as a family of four earning less than $23k annually. The four cases presented in the film included:

(a) an example of "suburban" poverty, with a divorced banker (formerly earning 6 figures annually) who lost his job and house due to another bank taking over, now a single dad with 3 sons, fighting to keep 2 part-time minimum wage jobs, and now on medicaid;

(b) a divorced, badly injured single mom trying to work her way out of a high-crime drug ghetto, whose sister was shot and killed, still trying to send her kids to school, still trying to be proud of her efforts;

(c) an older married couple with a Louisiana commercial fishing boat, trying to survive in a greatly depleted market due to Hurricane Katrina and the massive BP oil spill, with wetlands and oyster beds rapidly disappearing, in a state with the 2nd highest poverty level in the US,

(d) and a single man in Charlotte, NC...part of the "working poor" who earn between $11 - 15K annually...formerly homeless, now working as a dishwasher and busboy, finally proud to be able to live in his own apartment and not in a homeless shelter.

The speakers then followed up on the film with additional specifics on our New London County and nearby area. There is a reluctance (and pride) which causes people in trouble to feel too embarrassed to ask for help. Homeless people generally tend have a very low opinion of themselves. The poor have even less mobility or chance of success than in previous times and, with children to watch, have less ability to vote in elections and thus be represented.

Meanwhile, those people who have never experienced poverty, much less being homeless, do not feel that they are part of the problem, so they tend to think "why bother getting involved?"

Connecticut is a state of economic contrast. Compared nationally, it is wealthy, but the wealth is in the areas surrounding the larger cities, not in the metropolitan sections. The fiscal disparity of wealth in suburbs versus urban centers is a ratio of approximately 17 to 1, with CT also ranking as the 6th most expensive state in the US. Meanwhile, as example, the homeless shelters just in New London alone usually house an average between 50 to 80 residents per night...on a rotating basis...and this does not include those homeless people who find shelter wherever they can...under bridges, vehicles, or in abandoned buildings.

Many of us have heard the old saying that "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer." Unfortunately, today, this is a fact. One of the speakers alluded to the entrepreneur Henry Ford who, due to his religious feelings (he was also a Mason) felt that everyone should feel the success of the business. He therefore basically paid most of his workers twice the prevailing wage of the day as an incentive. Contrast this with the current prominent university business school attitude of "cut costs, cut labor, maximize profits." This is the attitude of certain businesses who pay minimum wage to part-time labor under a cloud of intimidation and fear while importing over 95% of their products from overseas. It exhibits a lack of humanity as well as an attitude of corporate greed....and the rich get richer, etc.

The overriding message of the program, and others like it being held at religious institutions across the country, is that the condition of poverty in our own backyard and in the USA itself has to be addressed by everyone, especially from the top down. There has to be a change in the attitude of our governmental representatives in Washington to stop the corruption...to stop welcoming the lobbyists for the 1%... and instead be the proper elected representatives of ALL US citizens. Meanwhile, as a country, we are already in serious financial debt....and most of us are not prepared for the consequences...we don't even speak Chinese.

It was expressed that if the economic disparity becomes any worse, it will be our downfall as a society. We will all be guilty of not speaking up, not voting accordingly, not taking charge of our obligations to others...and for that matter, not taking care of our environment. As Einstein once said, "everything is relative."

We have "problems at home." It is time for us to deal with them.