Could there have been better timing than this?
The U.S. Census Bureau’s annual poverty report that was released in mid-September said that the number of poor Americans increased to 46.2 million, the highest on record, and that the overall poverty rate climbed to 15.1 percent in an economy with 9 percent unemployment.
At the same time, two branches of the federal government advanced their proposed solutions in an atmosphere that made a high-school cafeteria food fight appear civilized.
Also happening simultaneously was an inaugural Poverty Summit and National Gathering that was convened in Fort Worth, Texas, by Catholic Charities USA in conjunction with nine nonprofit partners. The gathering brought together 600 people from around the country to form initiatives to reduce poverty in America and to protect the federal funding of programs that assist the poor.
Which makes the better case?
The White House and Congress continue to squabble over who should pay more taxes while the gap of inequality continues to widen.
The poverty summit looks toward implementing the common good.
The Census Bureau report of the worst poverty since it began reporting in 1959 comes in an already bleak atmosphere. Nearly one in six Americans are in poverty and almost 50 million are without health insurance.
In response to that report, Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, said in a press release that it should "help to draw the attention of American policymakers to the moral obligation that we have as a country to address this growing crisis."
By month’s end, it did not appear that his message reached those in Washington.
Rather than trying to balance self-interest, it is necessary to speak the language of the common good. And it is this true meaning of the common good that the national poverty summit of 10 nonprofit organizations dealing with human needs may help everyone to focus on.
A culture of the common good is one where people look out for one another and corporations, communities, and government policies and practices reflect that concern.
Listening to the constant bickering and name-calling from those who have the responsibility to solve the problem is tiresome and bothersome.
Government cannot solve every problem nor make us more generous or responsible to need.
"We live in the richest country in the world, even with our deficit challenges, and yet the vast majority of the country is content to go to bed at night without thought for the one out of every six Americans who are struggling simply to get by," said Father Snyder. "That has to change. And it’s up to us to change it."
Common good belongs to everyone by virtue of our common humanity. No one can be left out or deprived of what is essential.
"The Catholic way is to recognize the essential role and the complementary responsibilities of families, communities, the market, and government to work together to overcome poverty and advance human dignity," the U.S. bishops said in their 2002 pastoral "A Place at the Table."
"Efforts to overcome poverty should not be distorted by ideological agendas. We hear debates about more personal responsibility versus broader social responsibility — personal virtue versus better public policies. All these are necessary."
Let us hope that the politicians can rise to the level needed to accept their moral responsibility.
Kent, now retired, was editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle.