Poverty discussion is much needed

By Tom Payton

I would like to offer appreciation from me and on behalf of Center and Spring Grove United Methodist Churches for City Manager Joe Denen’s willingness to bring up the problem of poverty in our community in a public forum. Mr. Denen, please continue this important and much needed discussion!

Indeed, it is a very difficult topic to discuss as indicated by the conversation reported in the Record-Herald (Aug. 26, 2015). To admit we live in a less than idyllic setting is difficult to come to terms with, as evidenced by some of the discussion that included empty store fronts and wondering if the wage data was skewed by the number of retirees in the community, both lines of thought that avoid the realities some of our friends and neighbors face daily.

Many people took quite “a hit in retirements” during the Great Recession, using 401k money to survive. Many retired early due to the radical change in the workplace in which older workers discovered that finding work was difficult if not impossible. I am also a career counselor and personally had an employer ask me in veiled terms to send younger candidates. When challenged, he simply laughed at me.

It would be interesting to know how many of our senior citizens live and struggle to survive in poverty; especially those who worked in low paying jobs that serve the rest of us and lived from check to check. I often hear stories about seniors reducing or doing without prescriptions due to the excessive prescription costs.

It is clear a significant number of students receive free lunches due to poverty in our school systems and many free breakfast. Below are some statistics from our local Job and Family Services and the Community Action of Fayette County.

Fayette County Stats

Percent Children Single Parent Homes: 39.9 percent

Percent in Fayette County At or below Poverty: 20 percent

Receiving Food Assistance: 29 percent (8, 632 People)

Of that receiving food assistance ~ 3, 423 are children

Homeless in Fayette County: 41 (12 percent Children)

Living in Poverty under 18 years old: 25.2 percent

Living in Poverty over 18: 18 percent

As for wages – 80 percent of American workers have received little or no wage increase in the last 15 years. In my former job as a Human Resources Manager, I saw wages began to level off and then decline since 2001, essentially becoming flat. Unlike most businesses, healthcare (major companies) and insurance costs still seem to increase their prices in double digits annually, impacting us all.

So why deny or avoid such problems? Because once we are aware, we become responsible. This is “part and parcel” to the human condition. Love is not a “Hallmark Card” or a nice warm fuzzy feeling, but requires a response, action, and work. Someone once said that the measure of a society is the way it cares for the least among them. Thank you Mr. Denen, please continue to raise this issue, challenging, and awakening us all. But most of all, may it call us to action.

By Tom Payton

Tom Payton is the pastor of Center & Spring Grove United Methodist Churches.

Tom Payton is the pastor of Center & Spring Grove United Methodist Churches.