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Poverty: Can we cut it in half by 2021?

Compensation and BenefitsJim Wallis

"The poor you will always have with you," Jesus said. Some of his followers have taken that as a call to do nothing; others, as a call to action.

The latter would include Half in Ten, a campaign to cut poverty by half within a decade. Or, as the movement's website put it, "We can all share in America's prosperity."

As the organization reported this week, 15 percent of Americans live in poverty; workers are twice as productive as in 1970, but wages haven’t kept pace; the federal government spends half the percentage on employment aid as it did in 1979; Latinos and African Americans are five times more likely than Anglos not to have bank accounts; and households with only one wage earner are six times more likely to be living in poverty.

State-by-state numbers are given, too. In the Florida section, it says the state has a lower percentage than the national average for paid sick leave, college degrees, and high school graduates.

Florida did have higher percentages in some undesirable categories. Those include teenage births, families struggling with hunger, and people who don’t have health insurance.

The report offers hopeful signs, too. It says, for one, that the Earned Income Tax Credit lifted six million people out of poverty in 2009. Under both major political parties, U.S. poverty fell by half between 1964 and 1973. And according to the report, millions of jobs could be added in the growing transportation sector without taking jobs away from other Americans.

You can download the group's full report here.

Is any of this religious? It is to the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of the liberal evangelical group Sojourners.

"This report shows why so many young people have decided to become 'Occupiers,'" Wallis said in a statement from that organization. "Poverty should be the number one religious issue for the 2012 presidential election."

Joining in is the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, which has worked for decades to free up more money to feed the hungry.

"God is moving in our time to end hunger," Beckmann says bluntly in his own statement. He calls it a calling and a duty to "advocate for hungry and poor people, in God's name."

OK, you’ve read the stuff. Now it's your turn.

Do you think we can cut poverty in half with a decade?

Should we?

Is this indeed a spiritual duty?

And what difficulties can you perceive in meeting that goal?

James D. Davis

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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