More than 9 million American families are living in poverty, including 1.2 million people in Ohio, and 44 million lack health insurance, yet few political candidates are talking about helping the poor, the Rev. Jim Wallis said in a brief Toledo stop this week.
An evangelical preacher, social activist, and founder of Sojourners magazine and Call to Renewal anti-poverty coalition, Mr. Wallis said he was "kicking up some dust" and getting people to think about poverty with his "Rolling to Overcome Poverty Bus Tour," visiting 12 cities in 11 days.
Speaking to a diverse crowd of about 150 at a lunchtime rally Wednesday in the basement of Monroe Street United Methodist Church, he said the true test of a society is how it treats those at the bottom of its ladder.
Steadily rising poverty numbers illustrate the problem, he said, and a study released Monday by the Annie E. Casey and Rockefeller foundations showed that even people who work hard at full-time jobs can be on the edge of financial ruin.
According to the study, 39 million Americans, representing one out of four working families, earn such low wages that they have difficulty surviving financially.
Mr. Wallis cited another study that said a person earning the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour in Denver must work 90 hours a week just to pay for housing.
He called for "a livable wage, not a minimum wage."
Mr. Wallis urged Americans to study political platforms and candidate pledges for how they affect the poor, calling efforts to overcome poverty "a nonpartisan issue and a bipartisan cause."
Faith groups that provide meals, shelter, and clothing to the poor are "cleaning up the mess of bad social policy," but it's time for ministry to follow successful models and be transformed into a social movement, Mr. Wallis said, such as the movements that led to the abolition of slavery and women earning the right to vote.
Also speaking at the rally were the Rev. O'Neil Riley, pastor of St. Paul AME Zion Church; the Rev. Martin Donnelly of St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church, and the Rev. Margaret Mallory, district superintendent of the United Methodist Church.
"Every single Christian should mobilized by God to do something to fight poverty," Pastor Riley said.
More than a quarter of all food produced in the United States is thrown away, he said, while more than a billion people in the world live on a basic subsistence level.
Ms. Mallory said "the tentacles of poverty are powerful and far-reaching" and not only cause physical suffering, but "enter the psyche of the individual, robbing them of self-respect."
Father Donnelly said that if the saying is true that "the first casualty of war is truth," then "the second casualty would be the poor." Noting that the budget for the war in Iraq has been put at $200 billion, he asked: "Imagine what we could do with $200 billion for the poor?"
The "Rolling To Overcome Poverty Bus Tour" began in Minneapolis Oct. 6, visited Detroit on Tuesday, and headed for Cincinnati after the brief Toledo stop. It is scheduled to wind up in Philadelphia on Sunday. More information is available online at www.calltorenewal.org.