Why extend opportunities for the poor?
Extending opportunities to the poor has the overall goal of decreasing their number. If, as the New Testament quotes Jesus as saying, "the poor are always with us," why bother to try to change their state? There are several ethical answers to that question, and an even larger number of practical ones.
Some of the ethical answers are that any civilized society worthy of the name has an obligation to its poorest members to help them improve their condition; that the ranks of the poor, in most developed countries, are constantly changing - many people don't spend their whole lives in poverty, and the more opportunities they have, the fewer their poverty-stricken years will be; and that virtually every major religion and philosophical framework advocates helping the poor.
The practical reasons are even more convincing. Among them:
1. Decreasing poverty adds to the workforce. More people in the workforce means more possibilities for new business, as well as an increase in talent that may lead to greater productivity.
2. Fewer poor people reduces the tax burden on everyone. Every poor person who becomes a tax-paying worker reduces taxes twice over: she is now paying taxes into the system, and the system is no longer using taxes to support her.
3. Reducing poverty decreases medical costs. For a variety of reasons - ignorance of (or inability to afford) proper nutrition, lack of regular exercise, stress, environmental factors, lack of a regular physician, high-risk behavior - adults and children on the lowest rungs of the income ladder have more, and more severe, health problems than those higher up. Furthermore, they most often seek treatment at hospital emergency rooms, which is both more expensive and less effective than maintaining a relationship with a primary care physician.
4. Decreasing poverty means increasing the number of consumers, and thereby strengthening the overall economy. The more people who are able to buy goods and services, the greater the benefit for business. Businesses that make more money pay more taxes (at least if they're obeying the law), create more jobs, produce more goods and services, and - ideally - pay higher wages.
We know, we know - businesses aren't always fair to their employees or to consumers, many have accountants that find tax loopholes, they produce - and convince us to buy - all sorts of products we don't need, etc., etc. All this is true, and the Community Tool Box is not endorsing trickle-down economics here. On the other hand, it is also true that when businesses are doing well and the economy is strong, everyone else generally does better, too. There is more money in government accounts for programs and services that benefit the disadvantaged, there are more entry-level jobs for the previously unemployed and the just-graduated, and overall poverty rates often drop. While unchecked consumerism - the "I win because I have more toys" philosophy - is not beneficial for an individual or a society, the ability to occasionally buy something you want makes you feel that you're not doing badly...and that is a good thing.
5. Adults rising out of poverty can break a generational cycle, and move out of the culture of poverty. Their children won't grow up poor, and will grow up in circumstances where they're likely to learn - from both their parents and their environment - the attitudes and behavior that will assure their own financial security, and that of their children.
6. Reducing poverty increases diversity in all sectors of society. While the majority of the poor in the U.S., in pure numbers, are white, populations of color and language minorities are represented in much higher percentages than whites in the poverty statistics. Providing opportunities for these folks to advance economically could change the character of the student population and the workforce at all levels, and change the character of race and ethnic relations for the better in the process.
7. Providing opportunities for the poor gives more people a stake in the society. If the American (or Canadian or European) Dream seems out of reach, then people don't have a reason to care about the society as a whole. Poor and low-income U.S. citizens vote in smaller percentages than their more affluent counterparts, and often don't see the society as belonging to them, or themselves as part of the society. This leads to alienation, particularly for the young, and can result in violence and other destructive and self-destructive behavior.
When people are part of the larger economy, when they work and socialize with people from all walks of life, they see the society in a different light. The more people can enjoy and fulfill the benefits and obligations of the society, the more ownership they feel, the more actively they participate, and the stronger a democracy becomes.
8. Providing opportunities for the poor increases equity. Equity - the fairness of a society in terms of most people either having what they need, or no one having a huge amount while others have nothing - is one of the factors identified by the World Health Organization as being necessary for a healthy community. (See Chapter 2, Section 3: Healthy Cities/Healthy Communities.) It is, for instance, a better predictor of life expectancy (the greater the equity, the higher the life expectancy) than the affluence of the society - one of the reasons the U.S., the most affluent society in the world, ranks only 29th in longevity.
9. Providing opportunities for the poor can improve their and their children's lives. According to the Declaration of Independence, everyone has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That pursuit implies offering the opportunity for it to all. It's the right thing for a community to do, and can lead to a more equitable and humane society and a better quality of life for everyone.
This isn't just rhetoric. In more equitable societies, there is less need for conflict and violence, and more of the society's resources can be directed toward actually improving the quality of life, rather than toward managing one crisis after another.
Andre's purpose is to reconnect people to their Dignity and Honor in Being Human.