The Lord Jesus said, “The poor will always be with you.” According to the Census Bureau, more than 40 million Americans (one in seven) are poor. There’s no doubt that the world’s poor and America’s poor are two separate entities. When we think of the world’s poor, we think of nothing to eat, barely clothed, nowhere to sleep, little water, and a scarcity of personal belongings. That is not the same image we get when we think of America’s poor.
The Department of Energy (et al.) shows that the average poor family in America, as defined by the Census Bureau:
* “Lives in a home that is in good repair, not crowded.
* The home is equipped with air conditioning, clothes washer, and dryer.
* There is cable or satellite TV service.
* Prepares meals in a kitchen with a refrigerator, coffee maker and microwave as well as oven and stove.
* Enjoys two color TVs, a DVD player, VCR and — if children are there — an Xbox, PlayStation, or other video game system.
* Had enough money in the past year to meet essential needs, including adequate food and medical care.”
The above may describe the “average poor family” in America, but designating these people as being “poor” hurts the cause of those who truly are poor. It skews the image. The poor should not be defined as those who don’t have as much stuff as someone else. No one minds helping the truly poor either through the church or via government programs. However, tax dollars shouldn’t go to buy DVD players, satellite T.V. and such.
Americans are the most generous people on earth and we prove it over and over again. We like helping those truly in need. However, when the line delineating the poor is moved up to include all the people listed above, it breeds cynicism among the givers. When Americans give to help the needy, they expect the money to go to the needy as defined closer to the world standards rather than by the Census Bureau.
When the Lord said that we will always have the poor among us, I don’t believe He was thinking in the same terms as the Census Bureau.