Between the Lines
Sentinel Times | By: Tom Merchant March 30, 2011
WESTBROOK, Minnesota (STPNS) -- Last week I received an op-ed piece from the MinnPost.com written by Nancy Maeker and Dane Smith.
It talks about the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. It goes on to state; the rich are indeed getting richer and the poor are indeed getting poorer. The top one percent of us on the income ladder are benefiting from unprecedented share of income and wealth, while enjoying historically low federal and state tax rates despite chronic budget shortfalls.
The sad truth is those of us stuck on the bottom or near the bottom of the ladder are officially impoverished, and are once again the targets for all the budget cuts at the federal and state level.
Poverty trends over the past ten years for Minnesota are embarrassing to say the least. Recent recessions, while inconvenient for wealthy investors (most which have already recovered) have been devastating for many Minnesotans who lost jobs, or benefits, or got swindled by unscrupulous mortgagers and lost their home and life savings.
Our poverty rate has dropped us out of the best ten states with the lowest percentage of people living in poverty. Only four states have had a higher poverty rate over the past ten years. Only Mississippi, Georgia, and South Dakota got poorer faster! In one year from 2008 to 2009 we added 57,000 people to the official poverty ranks leaving 563,000 Minnesotans or about 11 percent of our population in that category.
Maker and Smith say in 2011, the top 10 percent of households are projected to have about 45 percent of the state s total income, while the bottom 10 percent will have less than 1 percent of income. Thus, if the bottom ten percent could double its share of income, the other 90 percent would only lose 1 percentage point of its share of the total personal income.
They go on to say while our state and federal governments are not solely responsible for alleviating poverty, they must play a stronger role providing a modernized education system, and the best work force in the world.
They need to restore work as a pathway out of poverty.
Help Minnesotans build and maintain financial assets.
Refocus and redesign public assistance.
I feel overall, this is not the time to be slashing programs that help people work their way out of poverty. It is a proven fact, children who grow up in poverty will be much more challenged in finding their way out of poverty. Students that go to school hungry have a difficult time concentrating on their studies. Children living in broken families also face challenges in school. Children who are homeless face even greater challenges, from hunger to negative peer pressure.
There is plenty of wealth in this country, for all people to live and prosper. But until we solve the growing problem of poverty, we will always have to deal with it at great expense to our society.
I was reading the Declaration of Independence, and it states: We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I think most people are familiar with that sentence. However I wonder how many people are familiar with the last sentence in the Declaration? It states: And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
Nancy Maeker is a Lutheran Pastor and executive director of A Minnesota Without Poverty. Dane Smith is the president of Growth & Justice.
Have a great week!