In all honesty I did not want to go to Washington yesterday. I had a busy week, what felt like an endless week. It was so bad that I took Friday off so that I could get a break both mentally and physically. I asked for strength and calmness and got it, it didn’t show up as a sudden burst of energy, it showed up as a realization that I am allowed to take a break, that it is important to love myself so that I can go on with the fight for justice in the world.
Being able to sleep in for a while extra hour on Friday morning and then tend to a few things before I headed to the airport was just what I needed. I was excited to go, and I am very glad I did because it was a moving experience.
As I stood only feet from the stage, surrounded by people of all walks of life and creeds, I heard many personal stories, some of which moved me to tears. I heard so many stories that they have blended together and I am no longer able to distinguish them from one another, but three stuck with me.
I heard the story of Pam, who is a mother from West Virginia. She spoke about how her children have no memory of her being in their lives when they were children. They do not remember her reading to them, cooking them dinner, or tucking them into bed. Why? Because she was working 3-4 jobs to afford the food they were eating, the beds they slept in, and the clothes they wore to school. Their poverty robbed them of their mother, and it robbed their mother of her motherhood.
I heard the story of Mark and his wife who have lost all three of their children to suicide. Their oldest son, who was a graduate of law school and the first in their family to go to college died by suicide first; his sister, who was a junior in college, reached out to the mental health services at her school for help and was told that she was coming to often and that they couldn’t see her that day, so 33 days after her oldest brother had died, she also died by suicide. Two years later, their youngest son, who was struggling with the pain of losing his two older siblings turned to fentanyl and died by suicide, leaving a note that said only “I’m sorry for the mess”.
I heard the story of Aaron, who talked about his grandfather who was a veteran of the US Military, serving his country for his entre life. Aaron’s grandfather died by suicide because he was unable to get treatment for his mental illness. Aaron made the point that it was easier for his grandfather to get a gun than it was to get the care he needed and that many young people in our country make the same choice because access to care is tied to wealth, not to their humanity.
The information available from the Poor Peoples’ Campaign is staggering and while there is not time for me to share it all with you, I do want to share some of it. The Poor peoples’ campaign maintains that there are 140 million poor and low wage workers in this country, which means that 43% of our population either lives in poverty or on the edge. Congress maintains that there are only 37 million people in poverty, but that number is based on the federal poverty limits not on reality. It is very possible for a person to make enough money to keep them above the federal poverty line, but not enough to pay their living expenses, have access to health care, or pay for childcare. The data is clear, poverty costs our economy $1 trillion dollars per year in lost productivity, increased health and crime costs, and increased costs resulting from child homelessness and maltreatment. Unstable housing among families with children will cost the U.S. $111 billion in avoidable health and special education costs over the next ten years. Hunger costs $160 billion per year in increased health care costs and another $18.8 billion to poor educational outcomes. Public assistance programs spend $153 billion a year as a direct result of low wages; and 250,000 die of poverty and inequality every year, which is 700 people per day. Despite these direct costs to taxpayers, we are continually told that there is no money, that requiring a living wage will harm small businesses, that the reason so many people are poor is because they aren’t willing to work. When the truth is that we simply value profit margins more than people. The National Defense Authorization Act, which is passed every year to fund our military industrial complex costs taxpayers approximately $800 billion dollars a year, approximately half of which goes to outsourcing our ability to defend our interests to military contractors, who are for profit companies.
If the federal minimum wage was raised to $15 we would see a reduction of approximately $41.6 Billion savings for federal assistance programs and we would see an additional $328 billion in spending in the economy. $1 Billion in SNAP benefits spending creates $1.7 billion in economic growth. For every $1 invested in early childhood education there is a $7.30 savings from increased earnings, better health, and lower incarceration rates. The point is this, the level of investment needed to solve many poverty issues in our country are not actually that costly when compared to other federal programs and many of these investments will ultimately lead to a cost savings to taxpayers. I could go on, but I won’t. Instead, I will make all of this information available to you through the e-eagle in the coming weeks.
If the woman from West Virginia had made a living wage from one of her 3 jobs, she could have been home with her children and she could have been the mother they desired her to be. If health care was properly funded and not tied to a person’s employment, perhaps three young lives would have been saved.
There are too many hard-working people suffering for us to ignore and the most important thing I learned from this experience is that silence does nothing but support the status quo, so I am not going to be silent anymore and I hope that you won’t be either. The Holy Spirit was alive at the Poor Peoples’ Assembly in Washington DC, it felt like our country is on the verge of repentance and resurrection, but we aren’t there yet. God can only bring about justice in the world if we do our part, so right here, right now, I am calling on each and every one of us to speak out because somebody is hurting God’s people and we can’t be silent anymore.