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Alabama citizens and poverty: Time for change?

By Maggie Ford

Eighteen and a half percent of Alabama residents live in poverty. That’s what the US Census Bureau published in 2015. We’re tied with Kentucky as the fifth poorest State in the Union. And it’s no joke that while some Alabamians are still complaining about the taste of their Christmas steak, some kids around the block are wondering where supper will come from.

We all know the routine: the chronically rich blame poverty on the bad habits of the chronically poor, and the chronically poor blame poverty on the oppressive systems of the chronically rich. It’s called the blame-game, and people have played it since the Garden of Eden.

Meanwhile, years of sincere poverty-alleviation efforts have drifted by. Government, charity groups and churches have poured vouchers, money and food into poor communities for a long time. I expect that over Christmas, a lot of the chronically rich wrote year-end checks to poverty-alleviation ministries or donated toys for the kids who needed presents. These efforts are worth something.

But the question remains: next year, will the recipients still be impoverished? Will the kids still need toys? Are there better solutions? While 22 trillion dollars have been put into the welfare programs since 1964, the national poverty level has hovered around 14 percent. What we are doing doesn’t seem to be working.

While some groups have implemented plans for long-term effective change, as a whole, Alabama can do better empowering her nearly 900,000 impoverished citizens to break their chains, to make fresh decisions. Regardless of the color of one’s skin, the financial situation of one’s grandparents, and the unique set of challenges one has been given, as living, breathing, American-Alabamian citizens, we always have the chance and ability to change. Sadly, the government pouring money into fast emptying purses and churches pouring presents into soon unwrapped boxes hasn’t fostered much real change; it has fueled a system of dependence and a sense of entitlement. While there is a time for offering quick solutions and money, there is a greater need for long-term transformation. This takes commitment from all involved.

As we kick off a new Legislative Session, a new Presidency, a new Senate race, a new Governor’s race and 365 days of new opportunity, and work to alleviate poverty, we need to reconsider some fundamental ideas.

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First, the capabilities of another person cannot be judged by their financial or social situation.

Second, all humans and all systems are affected by sin and the Fall – all in need of regeneration. When we point fingers solely at bad habits or bad systems, we side-step the fact that all of us have to take personal responsibility for our problems and the problems around us.

Third, the long-term ineffectiveness of relief packages, welfare programs, checks and presents (“band-aids”) for alleviating years of poverty and mindsets of dependence (“gaping-wounds”) reveal the need for long-term solutions.

If we’re going to step outside of this judgmental attitude, this blame-game, this short-term thinking, we’re going to have to shift from looking for quick results (i.e. kids unwrapping presents) to assisting real change (i.e. equipping parents to watch kids unwrap presents which they bought).

All of us have an obligation to commit time and talents to helping others in our communities. Everybody has something to offer, and somebody always needs help. Each person is gifted by God with talents to develop and abilities to hone. Find ways you can be involved in helping others form long-term habits and opportunities (i.e. classes, internships, financial training, job coaching, etc).

Also, the Legislature should retract government fingers from the free-economy pie. They should change any occupational licensing requirements which are keeping lower-income citizens from doing jobs they are totally capable of (African hair-braiding, make-up artistry, etc.). They should reform Welfare and Medicaid requirements to encourage independence, strong families and industry and stop rewarding dependence, broken families and unnecessary unemployment.

As we enter 2017 with hopes to see our poverty rate decreased, each of us should remember what Tuskegee’s own Booker T. Washington said, “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”

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