U.S. Poverty Rate Rises; Christians say Public Policy is Key

The nation’s poverty rate rose for the fourth consecutive year, bringing the rate to 12.7 percent of the population last year, according to statistics by the Census Bureau.

The Bureau on Tuesday said over 37 million people were living in poverty – up 1.1 million people from 2003.

The last decline in the overall poverty was in 2000, when the census found that 31.1 million people – 11.3 percent of the population - lived under the threshold.

According to Jim Winkler, the General Secretary of the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society, the poverty is due in large parts to the nation’s public policy priorities.

“This is beyond a simple matter of ups and downs in the economy,” said Winkler. “The policy of this administration has been to aggressively redistribute money from the poor to the rich.”

Winkler believes the church can help buck this poverty trend by doing more than just “feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and working where there is need.”

“The church has to do more,” he said.

United Methodists, for example, push for public policies that can end hunger, he explained.

The census showed that poverty increased despite strong economic growth. Last year, 2.2 million more people had a job. And according to Sheldon Danziger, co-director of the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan, the poverty number is still better than the 80s and 90s.

"The good news is that poverty is a lot lower than it was in 1993, but we went through a hell of an economic boom," Danziger said, according to the Associated Press. "Nobody is predicting we're going to go through another economic boom like that."

In addition, the number of people with health insurance coverage grew by 2 million last year – though the census also showed that the number of people without health coverage grew from 45 million to 45.8 million.

Winkler sees this as a critical reason for churches to step-in and make a change.

“We need to provide a moral and spiritual basis for these struggles,” explained Winkler. “These are difficult struggles, and in the fourth chapter of Luke, Christ tells us to heal the sick and bring good news to everyone.”

Specifically Winkler said churches must stand together to call for better public policies.

“Moses did not want to go to the government to call for freedom for the poor slave, but God told him he has to,” he said. “These examples are throughout Scripture.”

The Census results are based on the bureau’s Current Population Survey, which was conducted over three months, beginning in February, at about 100,000 households nationwide.