Thanksgiving is a time when many Americans pause to be grateful for all we have. In the current economic downturn when the gap between rich and poor is at the highest level since the Great Depression and the unemployment rate is 10.2 percent, millions of our neighbors, including many families with children, are struggling hard to count their blessings.
The latest Census Bureau numbers show the number of children living in poverty ($22,050 for a family of four) increased by almost 750,000 in 2008 to 14.1 million; the number of children living in extreme poverty ($11,025 for a family of four) increased by more than 500,000 to 6.3 million children. This is the biggest child poverty increase since 1992 and it comes at a time when our national safety net is full of holes.
When parents lose their jobs, lose their homes, lose their health care, children suffer, and all of us lose.
Each year we keep 14.1 million children in poverty it costs our nation over half a trillion dollars in lost productivity, higher crime, and poorer health. What kind of nation, blessed to be the wealthiest in the world, lets 1 in 5 children be poor with its children the poorest age group among us? This indefensible and preventable child poverty reflects a spiritual and values poverty far deeper than the eye can see and threatens the very meaning and future of America. So I offer a Thanksgiving prayer for us to commit to end poverty in our time — beginning with children.
God help us to end poverty in our time. The poverty of having a child with too little to eat and no place to sleep, no air, sunlight and space in which to breathe, bask, and grow.
The poverty of watching your child suffer and get sicker and sicker and not knowing what to do or how to get help because you don’t have a car to get to the emergency room or health insurance.
The poverty of working your fingers to the bone every day taking care of somebody else’s children and neglecting your own, and still not being able to pay your bills. The poverty of having a job which does not let you afford a stable place to live and being terrified you’ll become homeless and lose your children to foster care. The poverty of losing your job and searching and searching and searching for another amidst an epidemic scarcity of work.
The poverty of working all your life caring for others and having to start all over again caring for the grandchildren you love. The poverty of earning a college degree, having children, opening a day care center, and taking home $300 a week or even month if you’re lucky.
The poverty of loneliness and isolation and alienation — having no one to call or visit, tell you where to get help, assist you in getting it, or care if you’re living or dead. The poverty of having too much and sharing too little and having the burden of nothing to carry.
The poverty of convenient blindness and deafness and indifference to others, of emptiness and enslavement to things, drugs, power, money, violence, and fleeting fame. The poverty of low aim and paltry purpose, weak will and tiny vision, big meetings and small action, loud talk and sullen grudging service.
The poverty of believing in nothing, standing for nothing, sharing nothing, sacrificing nothing, struggling for nothing.
The poverty of pride and ingratitude for God’s gifts of life and children and family and freedom and country and earth and not wanting for others what you want for yourself. The poverty of greed for more and more and more, ignoring, blaming, and exploiting the needy, and taking from the weak to please the strong.
The poverty of addiction to drink, to work, to self, to the status quo, and to injustice. The poverty of fear which keeps you from doing the thing you think is right. The poverty of despair and cynicism. God help us end poverty in our time in all its faces and places, young and old, rural, urban, suburban and small town too, and in every color of humans You have made everywhere.
God help us to end poverty in our time in all its guises — inside and out — physical and spiritual, so that all our and Your children may live the lives that You intend in the richest nation on earth.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.
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