The nation's poverty rate has climbed to 14.3 percent, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, the highest rate since 1994. That's more than 43 million people living in poverty in America, including 15 million children and 3.7 million senior citizens.
Poverty is everywhere — the largest cities and remote rural towns — affecting anyone, regardless of age, race or ethnicity. Studies by the Urban Institute estimate that half of the American population will experience poverty at some point in their lifetime.
The prevalence of hunger and homelessness tells us a lot about poverty. According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors' latest Hunger and Homelessness Survey, 56 percent of those coming to food pantries and soup kitchens last year were families with children.
Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, increased by 12 million people. It is estimated that half of all children in America will receive SNAP benefits before they reach age 20.
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Families are now the fastest growing segment of the homeless. More than 1 million children live in a shelter, car or hotel room or share the home of a relative this year.
In Kansas, 328,800 people, or 13 percent of our neighbors, were living in poverty last year. In Sedgwick County, poverty lives with 52,800 people, including 16,000 children. Kansas has the seventh-highest rate of hunger in our nation.
The Kansas Food Bank will work with more than 200 agencies in feeding more than 198,000 Kansans this year, 1 in 4 a hungry child. This year, Catholic Charities will distribute more than 40,000 grocery bags of food, serve almost 100,000 prepared meals at our shelters and adult day service facilities, and provide 25,000 nights of safe shelter and support to homeless families and those fleeing domestic violence.
As a society, we want a quick fix to this problem. But poverty is a complex issue. Many have fallen into poverty for the first time because of loss of employment or medical crisis, while more than half were born into impoverished households.
Catholic Charities is working with a newly formed coalition of agencies and community members in Sedgwick County to determine how, by working together more collaboratively, we can not only meet basic needs of those in poverty but help them get out of poverty.
All of us know someone living in poverty, or we may be ourselves. It is not only the responsibility of our government to respond to this crisis, but each of us can help our neighbors.
You can begin today by volunteering or making a financial commitment to an organization working with the poor; talking with your elected officials in making positive changes in government programs; or even doing one act of kindness.
At Catholic Charities, we provide help and hope to all in need, regardless of faith. We depend on the compassion of our volunteers and donors to make positive changes in the lives of those in poverty.
Mother Teresa said, "We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop." You could be the difference in another's life.