Necessities of Life and Financial Priorities

Image result for poverty background black and white

Before getting into this topic, here are two recently published books for your consideration:

  • How Long, O Lord, How Long? by Dale Kreienkamp (Tenth Power) — The unemployment journey
  • Life, Love, Faith, Family by Jerry Kieschnick (CPH) — Perspectives from a veteran church leader

Dale, a friend of mine, shares both practical and spiritual insights on life after losing a job. Most of you know the other author. My book is available at www.cph.org/p-32843-life-love-faith-family-perspectives-from-a-veteran-church-leader.aspx. Dale’s is at howlongolord.org. Take a look at both.

Providing the necessities of life requires paying attention to financial realities people face every day. Should I buy the Lexus or the Lamborghini? The Maserati or the Mazda? The Starbucks Toasted White Chocolate Mocha for $6.00 or the McDonald’s Peppermint Mocha for $2.00? You get the picture.

Perhaps except for the wealthiest among us, people are cost conscious, to a greater or lesser degree. But many people around the world have never even thought about decisions like those above. They are concerned about the necessities of life and can’t even begin to think about the luxuries, even if they knew they existed. In many cases that is highly doubtful.

In a recent sermon I said: Making decisions about what to eat and what to wear are first world issues. Many folks in third world countries have only one choice and it’s not made from a full cupboard or a multi-wardrobe closet. Their choice is often: “Do I beg for food on the street or go to the dump to try to fill my empty stomach?” And “Do I wear my one pair of pants and my one shirt before or after I wash them in the Ganges River?” By the way, the levels of fecal coliform bacteria from human waste in the waters of that river near Varanasi are more than 100 times the Indian government’s official limit.

The topic of necessities of life became even more vivid for me when I read an Aug. 25, 2018 article in The Wall Street Journal: Pet Insurance Not So Niche Anymore. It stated, among other things:

  • In 2017 Americans spent $17 billion on routine veterinary care for cats and dogs
  • Pet accidents or illnesses can greatly increase veterinary costs
  • The old method of repairing a dog’s torn cranial cruciate ligament (canine ACL) costs $1,200
  • Setting the bone and putting in a plate to make the knee as good as new costs $4,500
  • In the face of such rising costs, Americans spent $1 billion for pet insurance in 2017
  • These policies cover only 1% of the 94.2 million cats and 89.7 million dogs Americans own
  • With 12 million puppies and kittens being born every year, that number will explode

While it may be difficult to consider all pets a necessity of life, they are often very significant in people’s lives. For example, service dogs, comfort dogs, seeing-eye and guide dogs, owned by people who live alone, especially the elderly, are among the animals who play a very important and necessary role. Cat owners could probably articulate better than I how the feline species fills significant roles as well.

Puppies and kittens are God’s gifts to mankind. Yet spending billions to care for them in the face of worldwide poverty causes one to scratch one’s head about necessities of life and financial priorities. That’s particularly true as Christmas approaches. Especially during this season, Terry and I are acutely aware of the people and possessions God has entrusted to our care. He has blessed us with the necessities of life and many of the wants. Thanking him as good stewards is our Christian privilege.

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The Middle Class

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“Middle class” is a term often used but widely misunderstood. How would you define it? A dictionary definition of middle class is “the social group between the upper and working classes, including professional and business workers and their families.”

In an August 24 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Brookings Institution scholar Homi Kharas defines the middle class as “people who have enough money to cover basic needs, such as food, clothing and shelter, and still have enough left over for a few luxuries, such as fancy food, a television, a motorbike, home improvements, or higher education.”

Kharas goes on to say: “After thousands of years of most people on the planet living as serfs, as slaves, or in other destitute scenarios, half the population now has the financial means to be able to do more than just try to survive. There was almost no middle class before the Industrial Revolution of the 1830s—just royalty and peasants. Now we are about to have a majority middle-class world.”

The Pew Research Center defines middle class income in the U.S. as “between 67% and 200% of the average median income.” The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the average median income was $59,039 per household in 2016. Using the Pew percentages, households making less than $39,556 are low income and households earning at least $118,078 are high income.

Using similar but slightly different category definitions, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 32% of households in our country are low income, 42% are middle class, and 26% are high income. To be sure, those are somewhat subjective numbers. And they surely vary from country to country.

An August 3, 2017 report by Nancy Birdsall titled Middle Class: Winners or Losers in a Globalized World? says that “almost 50% of the world’s population, with incomes of less than US$1 to US$4 per day are counted as poor and live almost entirely in the developing world.”

Birdsall continues: “Approximately another 40% of the world’s population, with income between $4 to $50 per day make up an ‘incipient’ (below $10 a day) or truly arrived middle class.” A much smaller “rich world middle class” has income between about $50 to $177 a day, including the top one percent of households in the world with income of $200 a day.

My experience in “third world” countries convinces me that while some may be middle class and a very small number high income, abject poverty still exists in the lives of far too many people. This is nothing new and the solution is anything but simple. In the meantime, we are called to help.

Moses said: “There will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” Deut. 15:11.

Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20.

Jesus also said: “To whom much has been given, of him much will be required.” Luke 12:48.

Assisting the Poor and Needy

Poverty

We often hear stories about programs for assisting the poor and needy. Some of those stories show the success of such plans. Others show how the system fails and is even abused.

An internet search for “solving the welfare problem in America” produces lots of information on this topic. Here’s one: http://solutions.heritage.org/entitlements/welfare/

When President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty, he said that it was intended to strike “at the causes, not just the consequences of poverty.” He added, “Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.”

Five decades and $24 trillion later, the welfare system has failed the poor. Poverty rates remain stagnant, and self-sufficiency languishes.

Today the federal government operates roughly 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to poor and lower-income Americans. Total federal, state, and local government spending on these programs now reaches over $1 trillion annually.

The cost of welfare is unsustainable, and pouring dollars into an ever-increasing number of welfare programs has failed to improve rates of self-sufficiency. It is time to get welfare spending under control and to reform welfare to encourage self-reliance and human thriving in the context of community.

In addition, in one of my computer files I found these statements on this topic, written by an unknown author from an obviously conservative perspective:

  1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.
  2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.
  3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.
  4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!
  5. When half the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.

These statements may seem a bit harsh and surely do not tell the whole story of human need and how it can be met. Yet governmental, religious, and other public or private agencies need to assist the poor responsibly to avoid harming both givers and receivers.

The Bible says: “There will always be some in the land who are poor…Share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need.” (Deut. 15:11 – NLT)

The Bible also says: “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” (2 Thess. 3:10 – KJV)

If a poor person is truly unable to work, we who have been abundantly blessed have a duty to assist. If a poor person is truly able to work, to rely on external assistance is hard to justify.

Baltimore

Credit:  Newsweek

Credit: Newsweek

My December 11, 2014 Perspectives article was titled “Ferguson.” The article reflected on the protests, demonstrations and looting in Ferguson, Missouri, following the decision of a grand jury not to indict the policeman who shot and killed an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown.

Those protests, demonstrations and looting spread from Ferguson to places as far away as Oakland, Cal. and New York City. Stores were burned, valuable items were looted, bridges were blocked and mayhem was unleashed.

Sound familiar? The same things happened this week in Baltimore. Violent activity, riots, fires and looting resulted in charred cars, burned buildings, hospitalized police officers, looted and damaged businesses. One activist vowed to “shut this city down.”

A state of emergency was declared and National Guard troops were brought in. Parts of Baltimore looked more like a war zone than a place where people live, work and play. The damage and destruction were inflicted by, among others, gangs and high school students.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan appealed for peace and declared that further lawlessness and violence would be neither condoned nor tolerated. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said: “Too many people have spent generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs who, in a very senseless way, are trying to tear down what so many have fought for.”

The catalyst for this scenario of senseless, dastardly, destructive, lawless and violent behavior in Baltimore was similar to that which precipitated the same kinds of raucous demonstrations that devastated the city of Ferguson several months ago. In each case a young African American man died in the wake of police response to what appeared to them to be unlawful activity.

In Ferguson it was Michael Brown, who was shot and killed. In Baltimore it was Freddie Gray. The only details of the cause of his death available at the time this article was written are that he was not buckled into the police van in which he was riding after being apprehended and that he did not receive timely medical attention. More details will surely be uncovered in the future.

In the meantime, I’m convinced that, along with original sin and satanic influence, there are several significant root causes of the behavior manifested in Ferguson and now Baltimore:

  • High rates of unemployment in poverty stricken areas, especially among young males.
  • Breakdown of the family and thus the absence of spiritual, moral and ethical values.
  • Difficulty faced by police officers in making split-second life and death decisions.
  • A growing spirit of distrust contributing to greater interracial division in America.
  • Disrespect and disregard in some circles for law and law enforcement officers.
  • Lack of personal responsibility and respect for authority, law and order.
  • Three out of four homes in certain areas have no father in the home.

My December 11 article concluded with these words: “It will take a miracle for what happened in Ferguson never to happen again!” We still await that miracle.

Lord, have mercy!