Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Global vs. Domestic Poverty...Is it really "us" or "them"?

Sometimes I get a blog comment that really needs to come out to be it's own post. I got a very sincere comment from a reader who is troubled about domestic poverty and is concerned that efforts to combat global poverty are detracting from efforts to help U.S. citizens. I invite you to read her thoughtful comment and my response below because it is a very common conversation. No matter how you feel about this, please get involved and be engaged in the fight against whatever type of poverty inflames your passion!

“I think it's fantastic that these people want to help end hunger and poverty around the world. But there is one thing that has always bothered me...

So many organizations based in the US work so hard to aid other countries with their poverty. What I see is all the homeless and poverty stricken Americans that need that aid just as much. 

I feel that we as Americans can provide so much more support to other countries if we ensure that our own citizens are healthy, happy, and well cared for first. If we could provide for all the American's in need, our economy and general moral would be so much higher. Thus, making America in a better position to provide for other countries.

 I'm sorry, but I feel like we should take care of ourselves first and foremost... to be stronger for the struggles ahead.” –Jessica

Thank you for sharing your feelings, Jessica. You’re not alone in your opinion. I offer a few thoughts to consider.

Advocacy organizations like Bread for the World and RESULTS agree with you in that we cannot ignore the suffering in our own country. Bread runs a domestic hunger campaign approximately every other year (past US campaigns have been for food stamps & TANF...next year's will be focused on US poverty as well). RESULTS also has groups of volunteers with domestic focus that did considerable work to develop our Head Start program (most of them are working on health care now) in addition to groups working on global issues. 

Where Bread and RESULTS disagree with you is the notion that this is an either/or situation...help them OR help us. We invest only 0.17% of our national budget on international poverty reduction. Considering how many times our military must intervene in countries destabilized by destitute poverty (costing us money and - worse- lives), the savings and benefits to our citizens for eradicating extreme poverty is enormous.

Also, please consider that global health is a local issue. We have all but wiped out tuberculosis here, but because the world hasn't addressed it globally, Multi Drug Resistant TB developed in poverty hotspots and now is showing up in our borders because it's an airborne disease only a plane ride away. 

Lastly, I encourage you to consider the relative scale of poverty. When we speak of poverty in the U.S., it doesn't really come close to the World Bank's definition of extreme poverty...living on less than $1.25 a day. Generally, even the poorest Americans have access to clean water through public drinking fountains.

I thank you for your comment and encourage you to take your passion for helping those in need to a level of advocacy. Visit Bread at www.bread.org or RESULTS at www.results.org to get connected and engaged!