Posted by: Barry | June 8, 2010

“A Problem of Powerlessness”

I take a walk every evening, after the kids are in bed, and I usually bring something to read with me.  This week I’ve been rereading Economic Justice for All, a pastoral letter on the American economy published by the Catholic bishops of the United States back in 1986.  That was almost a generation ago now.  It still makes for interesting and rewarding reading. 

A couple of passages in the letter struck me, on my walk last night, as an excellent description of what ABLE Families is all about.  Though written nearly a decade before our agency was founded, these sentences could easily be taken as a description of our philosophy and mission.

[P]overty is not merely the lack of adequate financial  resources. It entails a more profound kind of deprivation, a denial of full participation in the economic, social, and political life of society and an inability to influence decisions which affect one’s life.  It means being powerless in a way that not only assaults one’s pocketbook but also one’s fundamental human dignity.  Therefore we should seek solutions that enable the poor to help themselves through such means as employment.  Paternalistic programs which do too much for and too little with the poor are to be avoided. [section 188]

Any long-term solution to poverty in this country must pay serious attention to education, public and private, in school and out of school. Lack of adequate education, especially in the inner city setting, prevents many poor people from escaping poverty.  In addition, illiteracy, a problem that affects tens of millions of Americans, condemns many to joblessness or chronically low wages.  Moreover, it excludes them in many ways from sharing in the political and spiritual life of the community.  Since poverty is fundamentally a problem of powerlessness and marginalization, the importance of education as a means of overcoming it cannot be overemphasized. [section 203]


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