photo of Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA

Mind the Gap

September has brought us historic news on many fronts. Today we heard that the stock market had its most successful September in 71 years. Last week a large bank announced that it was hiring an executive with a $30 million compensation package. And Forbes released its list of the 400 richest Americans.

But in September we also witnessed other records that stand in stark contrast to the news above. We learned from the Census Bureau that in 2009 43 million Americans were living below the official poverty line. And our own Catholic Charities USA survey showed that our agencies around the country had served more than 9 million people in 2009.  Many of them had held jobs as recently as 2008. Others had been our volunteers or donors before the Great Recession wiped away their American dream.

The gap between extreme wealth among a few on one hand and a downward spiral into poverty of millions of others is growing with alarming alacrity. Champagne corks are popping in one corner of our society. Food banks are going bare in others.

A few days ago more than a thousand Catholic Charities leaders and staff from around the United States gathered in Washington to address this issue head on. We are committed to reducing poverty in America by changing our social contract in America.

We have proposed national legislation that would change the way federal, state and local governments help poor Americans get out of the vicious cycle of poverty and become self-sufficient and productive. This is a first step toward realigning all U.S. antipoverty programs under a new model that focuses more on moving people out of poverty than on providing relief of poverty conditions only, such as food or shelter, which encourages dependency.

Railway passengers are often advised to Mind the Gap to avoid falling between platform and train. We mind the gap that is growing between those who are living in desperate poverty in America and those who are not. We don’t deny anyone the pursuit of the American dream. But we believe that it must be a just pursuit, and as a just society we must provide every American with the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential.