As a direct result of Katrina and its aftermath, and for the first time in many years, the media are reporting on poverty, telling Americans that New Orleans had an overall poverty rate of 28% (84% of them African-American), and a child poverty rate of almost 50% – half of all the city’s children (rates only a little higher than other major cities and actually a little lower than some others). Ironically (and some might say providentially) the annual U. S. Census poverty report came out during the Hurricane’s deadly assault showing that poverty had risen for the fourth straight year with 37 million Americans stuck below the poverty line – and they were the ones most stuck in New Orleans.
Katrina has revealed what was already there in America; an invisible and mostly silent poverty that we have chosen not to talk about, let alone to take responsibility for in the richest nation on earth. This week, we all saw it; and so did the rest of the world. And it made Americans feel both compassionate and ashamed. Many political leaders and commentators, across the ideological spectrum, have acknowledged the national tragedy, not just of the horrendous storm, but of the realities the flood waters have exposed. And some have suggested that if the aftermath of Katrina finally leads the nation to demand solutions to the poverty of upwards of a third of its citizens then something good might come from this terrible disaster.
I signed their petition to President Bush about dealing with poverty, and I’ll be fasting at least part of Thursday as global leaders meet Sept. 14-16. I’d encourage you to read about it and sign the petition, too.