The Immorality of Poverty

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Jesus said, circa 33AD, “the poor will always be with you…”

Two thousand years later, in the United States, the richest country on the planet, 39.7 million people live in poverty.

Darn it if Jesus wasn’t right. Smart Man that Jesus was.

And yet, turn on any cable news program, click on any political blog, or pick up any newspaper, and you’re almost certain to read about the sizzling hot American job market.

Indeed, the rest of the world, according to President Trump, is jealous of our strong economy.

At 3.6% as of the end of April, the national unemployment rate is at historic lows. And this is true across the board…Asians, Hispanics, women, even high-school drop-outs. Everybody who wants to work is working.

In California, the unemployment rate is a little higher than it is nationally, but at 4.3%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is still low.

And this is a good thing, because working is a good thing. It gives us purpose. Working affords us dignity and the opportunity to produce, and inevitably working allows us to consume.

However, tragically, working doesn’t automatically result in escaping poverty.

America, and California, and certainly here in Santa Barbara County, tens of thousands of people are working but are also living just above, right at, or even below the poverty line.

According to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, 48% of families today earn $50,000 or less of annual (pre-tax) income. For a family in this income category, their average after-tax income is just below $23,000. Or $1,900 a month.

This startling statistic describes 59 million households in America today. Families in this situation more often than not have days instead of money left over at the end of the month. They literally are living paycheck to paycheck.

And to make matters worse, these families are spending an average of 17% of their take-home pay on residential and transportation energy costs. In fact, residential electricity costs represent 69% of household utility bills.

For 59 million families in America today, every dime they earn working is spent keeping the lights on, paying the rent, putting food on the table, going to the doctor, and filling their tank.

These families live off-camera, on the economic margin, and in the shadows.

They aren’t spending weekends wine tasting, or out on the slopes skiing, or in the Channel sailing. You won’t find them protesting an affordable housing project, or a neighborhood school, or the building of a hospital.

And they certainly aren’t spending their evening attending public hearings to offer comments on an environmental impact report for a trucking application.

Indeed, the idea these struggling families would spend their time opposing trucking oil from one facility to another, knowing that by doing so might result in the cost of filling their tank to go from $40 to $60, or higher, is the type of political activism, and eco-fanaticism they can’t afford.

I’m certainly no moralist. I probably have more vices than any two people. However, I do not and I will not support policies that hurt our most vulnerable populations.

I challenge someone, anyone, to explain why supporting any policy that will result in higher energy costs isn’t hurting (intentionally or otherwise) those who can least afford it.

Consider the following adverse health and welfare impacts to low-income households from high energy costs according to a 2011 survey by the National Energy Assistance Directors Association:

  • 24% went without food for at least one day
  • 37% went without medical or dental care
  • 34% did not fill a prescription or took less than the full dose
  • 19% had someone become sick because their home was too cold

And here’s the other thing…the families who are disproportionately impacted by rising household energy costs are minorities and senior citizens. And of course also children.

So, again, I ask, where is the economic justice I hear so much about from my friends on the political left? Or from those woke activists claiming to care about people over profits? Families over corporations?

How do these folks square the circle of their relentless anti-energy-abundance green activism? Or their people of the climate, fanatical capitalist manifesto-ism?

Their social justice, “eat the rich” ditty is way off tempo and totally out of sync with economic reality and what is required to care for the less fortunate.

They aren’t hurting oil companies or economically mobile professionals. They are hurting and holding back the working poor from ever achieving economic mobility. And for that, they ought to be ashamed.