Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11); but who are the poor?
According to the U.S. Census, approximately 13 percent of Pennsylvanians live under the poverty line. This is a threshold determined by the Census Bureau to be the minimum income necessary for meeting basic needs. The annual income figure is adjusted by the number of family members that it is supposed to support. For example, in 2017, a family of four earning less than $49,200 per year is counted as poor in the statistics. The poverty threshold is updated annually to account for inflation, but admittedly it does not provide a complete description of what families need to live. It is merely a statistical yardstick to help us gauge the economic circumstances of our communities.
Works of mercy, those charitable actions by which we help our neighbors with spiritual and bodily necessities, have been a concern for Christians since the beginning. We are called by Jesus himself to care for the needs of sufferers. Many of us know the corporal works of mercy by heart: feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2447)
This love for the poor is supposed to inspire our decisions about how we practice this Christian charity through direct giving and in our work toward alleviating conditions that contribute to poverty. While there is much debate about how to address the needs of the poor and who bears the greatest responsibility, it is certain that the Church alone cannot eliminate poverty.
As the public affairs agency for the Catholic Church in the state capital, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference sits at the intersection between Catholic Charities and state government policy. We must pay close attention to the debate about poverty in the public square.
This series of articles will explore a few important questions: What is it like to experience poverty? How does someone fall into that situation? What is Pennsylvania doing to address the problem? What can a concerned Catholic citizen do to help?
Amy B. Hill, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference’s Communications Director, is the lead contributor of the “A Portrait of Pennsylvania’s Poor” series.
Read more: A History of Helping the Poor