I was painting our windows and my soon-to-be 9 year old son began a discussion about how people love money now more than in the past. From his perspective, people today desire money and things more than they did in the past. We rambled back and forth about how people have always wanted things, how one-third of Jesus' teaching deal with money, how people were satisfied with horse drawn transportation and now have to have several cars...and other economic subjects dad's have with well read 9 year olds. He rightly focused on how greedy it seems like people are and how that is a bad thing.
I just wanted him to grasp that when we value money and things over people, we have it wrong. He made a point that poor people can't really be greedy because they need things. I countered that some of the greediest people I know are poor and that it is not the lack and abundance of money can cause people to be greedy.
While I am painting and talking it struck me how easy it is for anyone between 9 and 99 to whitewash over the condition of the heart when we think about poverty. Here are 3 ways I have to check my ability to whitewash poverty.
Poverty is a Lack of Wealth
The Chalmers Center for Economic Development has conducted studies reveal the poor identify only 10% of the problem of systemic poverty as a lack of money. 90% of the problems described by the poor relate to shame, lack of self worth, disappointing family and friends and other relational problems. People are more than economic units of production and consumption and must be treated as such. Wealth is only one indication of poverty and it takes more than money to build self-worth. On the flip side, some of the most content and relationship rich people I have met have very little financial wealth...and some wealthy people have few healthy relationships or contentment.
Economic Poverty is a Result of Poor Personal Productivity
Some of the hardest working people I know are poor working with all they have to save their lives. They work even harder to save their children and other family members. A lack of opportunities stemming from place of birth, education, work opportunities and a host of other things usually keep people in poverty. Almost all people in poverty are born into these conditions and do not actively choose their way into poverty. The majority of the world works most of the time just to survive and do not have resources to risk for personal advancement.
Economic Disparity is Poverty
There is a growing income gap in the United States, Africa and other parts of the world. Different reasons and conditions create income and wealth gaps in countries with developed economies and developing countries. Sometimes it is the natural expansion of an economy where a minority of people are able to participate in a growing economy. In time the majority of people are able to participate in the economy, but at the beginning economic expansion affects a few people. Other times economic disparity can point toward institutional and policy problems such as unionization, minimum wage, trade and immigration polices. However, just focusing our efforts on policy misses the point of building people and their intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships.
We all know there are other ways to glace over poverty, these just serve to remind us that working with the poor is about building people, not the things people can have. In my next post, I will outline some ways we can all work to build up the poor...including ourselves.