Last week the federal government announced that the official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent — up from 13.2 percent in 2008. 43.6 million people now live below the poverty line, up from 39.8 million in 2008 — the third consecutive annual increase in the number of people living in poverty. This is the highest poverty rate in America since 1994, but constitutes the largest number of people who are deemed officially poor in the 51 years for which poverty estimates have been published.
Those of us at Catholic Charities USA are not surprised. This week we will release the results of our own survey that will tally how many people our agencies served in 2009, and expect to see an increase in those numbers as well. But rather than feeling defeated, this trend makes us even more determined to redouble our efforts to reduce poverty in America.
Later this week Catholic Charities USA will mark its 100th anniversary of serving the poor, the latest chapter in a 2,000 year tradition of caring for the poor, for the least among us, as we have been directed to do by the Gospel and Catholic social teaching.
When we gather in Washington for our Centennial events we will celebrate the achievements of our past. But we also will be setting in motion our plans for the next day, and the day after that, and for the next year to reach our goal of cutting poverty in half by 2020. We all have a role in this. I will be challenging each of you, our faithful, our teachers, our leaders, and our neighbors to join Catholic Charities in a national discussion that makes ending poverty in America our top priority.
We are all on a journey toward God. May our actions together be grounded in the criteria upon which we ultimately will be judged, so that we may hear the words of the King:
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matt. 25:34)
As we will it, so shall the future be.