A little more than 100 years ago, during the last Gilded Age, Sam “Golden Rule” Jones brought a more thoughtful, compassionate, and inclusive form of government to Toledo. Today, Toledo and the rest of America need to be reminded of the Golden Rule.
Everyone deserves to be treated with the same respect and dignity that we wish for ourselves, but America has forgotten this. Our nation has turned its back on millions of its poorest citizens as if they were disposable — not worthy of even the most basic human necessities of food, shelter, and health care.
When I began my career in 1973, I never imagined that poor people would be worse off today than they were then. The overall number of poor Americans rises or falls with the economy, but the depth to which we have allowed poor families to fall continues to increase.
We have “reformed” our safety-net programs to help only those we feel are “deserving.” We have fostered animosity toward those who are “dependent.”
The Founders proudly used the word “welfare” in the Preamble to our Constitution. Today, the word has only a negative, disdainful connotation.
We willingly allow more than 6 million Americans — including more than 300,000 Ohioans — to live in households that have no cash income whatsoever. These people try to survive on a small allotment of food stamps, with no cash for rent, utilities, clothing, or personal hygiene products.
Life for these families and their children is harsh. Poor people are among a growing number of Americans, along with ex-offenders and others, whom our society sees as disposable. We consider them undeserving, we have little or no sympathy for them, and we mostly wish they would just disappear.
We rationalize that they have gotten to this point in life because of their own character flaws, and therefore do not deserve our help. But they are still here.
We can wish they were invisible, but the millions of poor and other people we have dismissed as disposable are not going anywhere.
In recent days, Hurricane Sandy caused great hardships for millions of people on our East Coast. We saw countless acts of charity and compassion in response.
Neighbors offered food and shelter to those who were harmed most by the storm. These good Samaritans did not worry about who was deserving.
Sam Jones advocated that we follow the Golden Rule, treat everyone with respect, and treat others as we would wish to be treated.
We are all in this together. We cannot be a civil society and continue to ignore the well-being of millions of our fellow citizens.
Jack Frech is director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services in Athens, Ohio.