Poverty is the Pandemic
We are not in the same boat. We are not in the same storm. In fact, an economic storm has been raging all along and we have left many without a boat or paddle to weather the most recent epidemic to hit Rock County, Wisconsin. The truth is that poverty is the pandemic and COVID-19 is shining the light along the fault-lines of racial, economic, gender and age disparities in our community. This novel corona virus is making poverty visible for those whose eyes have been blinded by privilege. With recent revelations that COVID-19 impacts the African American and Latino communities disproportionately to the white communities, we might presume that in our relatively more progressive, socially conscious, and faith-filled community, we would be spared these disparities. As of April 22nd Rock County had 83 cases of COVID-19, 12% from the African American community which makes up 4.3% of our population, and 13% of the cases come from the Latino community which make up 8.4% of our community. What is more, our younger population is being hit harder as well—with 35% of cases being 18-44 age range. According to DataUSA for Rock County, women between the ages of 25-34 are the largest demographic living in poverty. These storms have been raging for some time, but now by God’s grace, we may have eyes to see it.
Storms Raging in the “Other America”
What does faith have to do with it? After all, I am not a demographic expert, nor a public health professional. I am a pastor called to minister to the people in our community. Our church is on the fault-lines of poverty in Rock County. We serve the most vulnerable within the 4th Ward. People whose children boasted the highest enrollment in the school lunch program, now do not have the school to shield them from the storm. They also do not have masks. They do not have unemployment benefits. They do not qualify for small business loans. They do not have a safety net. Our faith tells us that we are all made in the image and likeness of God and are equally endowed with gifts and talents by our Creator for the common good. And yet, we cannot reap the harvest of that creativity and innovation from the diversity among us, if we cannot see that basic opportunities are made available to each of our citizens. Esteemed theologian and American prophet, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says it best in The Other America. “There are literally two Americas. One America is flowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality…and that other America has a daily ugliness about it that transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair.” We must not feed our community with the empty calories of hope and prayers alone. As people of faith we are called to raise our hands to calm these raging storms of poverty like the one whom we say we follow. Our faith must be followed with action. Our policies must demonstrate equal access to dignity—that everybody is somebody in God’s eyes. If only we will have the eyes to see.
This article is forthcoming in the Janesville Gazette scheduled for Sunday April 26th, 2020