The end of the year always brings with it a sense of wistfulness and promise. Nostalgia for the passing of the year, but also a sense of hope that this year will be the start of something new and exciting.
At the top of my list of priorities for 2014, is engaging people across this country in a conversation about the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty. As some of you may know, in 1958, just before President Lyndon Baines Johnson declared war on poverty, about 22 percent of Americans lived at or below the federal poverty line. Within 10 years, that number had dropped in half to about 11 percent; but we’ve never seen it fall any lower than that. Instead, it’s crept higher and now stands at just over 15 percent of Americans living in poverty. There is no doubt that the current safety net performs a critical service for millions in our society today. That is a commitment we must keep. However, the fact that there are more than 46 million people living in poverty in this country illustrates the weaknesses of a social service system that responded to the needs of its day, but has not kept pace with the advances and changes in society over the past 50 years.
In 2014, I look forward to bringing together policy makers, scholars, business leaders, non-profit leaders, theologians, pundits, and on-the-ground service providers for substantive discussions about our social safety net and what we see is working and what is not. I feel strongly that we need to move towards policies and programs that incorporate ideas coming from the innovative approaches already being undertaken across the country. I look forward to sharing more about that with you in the coming months.
And last, but certainly not least, on my list of to-dos in 2014 is to encourage all of us to listen attentively and with open hearts to the words of someone who has inspired millions around the globe with his humility and commitment to the poor. Since the first time he was introduced to the world as the new leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has not only talked the talk of living in solidarity with those in need, he has walked the walk. His example of being a servant and witness of those living on the margins of society – no matter the difference in creed, race, economic status, or other artificial division – should be inspire us all to think and act anew as we seek a country with opportunity for all to achieve their full potential.
I wish you and yours the happiest of holiday seasons and the peace and joy that come from our newborn Lord. From all of us at Catholic Charities USA, I wish you a merry Christmas, and a happy – and hopeful – new year.