photo of Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA

Living the Great Depression Today

Last night on NBC’s Dateline Ann Curry reported on the lives of the poor and jobless in Southeast Ohio, an area where jobs were tied to the coal, clay, and salt mining industries. Life as a miner was hard, but people had a measure of dignity knowing that they could provide a roof over their head and food on the table for their families, even if those provisions were meager. But when American turned more and more to oil and natural gas, the mines closed and economic conditions in the coal mining regions of Ohio deteriorated even further. Unemployment is more than 20% in some places.

These are people who are one disaster away from going under. The children who sleep in a car because they don’t have a home. The teenage girl who must walk to a neighbor’s trailer to take a shower, her feet picking up dust and dirt back to the camper she shares with her parents and younger brother. A mother who dreams of a future for her daughter, even as she depends desperately on the local food pantry for meals. The father who believes he is worth more dead than alive to his sons – they would be eligible for Supplemental Social Security funds without him.

Ms. Curry provides a portrait of poverty in America, and underscores why we need to think about our social and economic structures in new ways. Because as the Great Recession continues, I fear that more and more families not only will lose their American dream, but will join the growing ranks of the poor. Watch the report. Then offer your ideas about how we can rebuild an America that offers everyone the opportunity to work and have a home.