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Room at the Table

November 24, 2013

“Freedom from Want” by Norman Rockwell (1943), (PD-Art)

IRS statistics indicate that the gap between rich and poor in the United States is the largest in nearly a century. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that gap is widening. The average income of the wealthiest 5% is thirteen times more than that of the poorest 20%.

A few of the websites with figures relating to poverty can be found, below. But an onslaught of numbers is mind numbing to most of us. A snapshot may convey more.


Picture yourself a single or divorced mother. You are more likely to be white than black. You and your children live in rural poverty, on an army base, or in what is now politely known as the “inner city” (apparently a more acceptable term than the older “ghetto”).


You work outside the home, in a full or part-time job (sometimes two). Since you have no more than a high school diploma, you are limited to minimum wage, blue and pink collar jobs. Never mind that you grew up in poverty, yourself. Never mind that you somehow survived a drug addicted mother and absent father, without succumbing to drugs or alcohol, yourself.


Childcare is an ongoing challenge, sometimes costing you jobs. When a child is sick, you miss work. Child support is little more than a fantasy. Even if involved in their lives, the children’s father may be out of work, himself.

Health Issues

Poverty and all it entails is a recognized cause of chronic health problems. You may already be suffering from depression or heart disease. Your children still have their dreams. They, also, have asthma.

Government Assistance

There are government programs that should be of help to you. Welfare, Food Stamps, and others. These require that you set any remaining pride aside, and wait hours on a phone, a website, or a line. You do that gladly (and repeatedly), to no avail.

One agency takes the position you are another’s responsibility. A third unaccountably closes its file, sending you back to the beginning.

So on and so on. Bureaucratic errors and delays bring you to tears. You fear you may snap.


Your children have had little stability in their lives, apart from you. Unfortunately, you (and they) have more than once been evicted.

This is not the result of a cavalier attitude on your part toward finance.

To the contrary, you stretch your meager income as far as possible to meet expenses. Since there are never enough funds to go around, you pay bills in part, in alternate months, or allow them to go into collection. This applies to rent, as well.

Evicted and without savings, you sleep on a friend’s couch, effectively homeless. Your children may have to change schools again; may have lost their meager belongings to a lockout by the landlord.

Public housing is not an available alternative. The waiting list for subsidized housing in your state may be years long. Such housing is often dilapidated; the crime rate there, astronomical. Ceilings leak, toilets function only occasionally. Gunshots can be heard in the halls.

One court commented:

“It seems unconscionable to allow a landlord to extract rent when the shelter paid for is uninhabitable by any decent standards. In that regard, there is simply no difference in principle when the landlord is a public agency. The tenant’s plight is the same, and the callous insistence upon continued rent is no less abhorrent.”


Younger children eat before older ones. You eat last, if there is any food remaining. More often than not, the refrigerator stands empty.

This is not the image any of us would choose for Thanksgiving. Chances are, we would conjure up a table groaning with delectable foods – a massive turkey, biscuits and gravy in abundance, pies in every flavor.

But Americans, and Christians especially, must make room at the table for the least of these.  We will be judged by the extent to which we do.

Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty…and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me’ ” (Matt. 25: 44-45).


[1] “Income Between Rich and Poor is Biggest in a Century,” Los Angeles Times, 9/11/13,

2] “The Gap Between Rich and Poor Increases in 45 States,” Albert Sabate, Fusion, 11/15/12 and 10/25/13,

[3] “State Income Inequality Continued to Grow in Most States in the 1990s, Despite Economic Growth and Tight Labor Markets,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 1/18/00,

[4] “Cities with the Widest Gap between the Rich and Poor,” Michael Sauter/Alexander Hess/Thomas Frohlich, 24/7 Wall St., 11/4/13,

[5] “Thousands of Military Families Live in Poverty,” Voice of America, 10/29/09,

[6] “Americans in Poverty at Greater Risk for Chronic Health Problems”, Danielle Kurtzleben, US News, 10/30/12,

[7] “The Incorporation of the Implied Warranty of Habitability in Public Housing Programs,” Rachel Camber, Washington University, Journal of Urban and Contemporary Law, Vol. 38: 205, 1990,

[8] “Drugs and Crime in Public Housing: A Three-City Analysis,” National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS),

[9] Techer v. Pierce, No. N-78-484, Slip Opinion at 4 (D. Conn. 10/13/82).


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