Friday, March 11, 2011

The real cause of poverty

Poverty is on everyone's mind it seems, and that's heartening. We're commanded throughout Scripture and particularly by Jesus to care for the poor.

In recent months, there's been a surge in concern about poverty. B.C.'s provincial leadership campaigns have led to a lot of discussion on increasing the minimum wage and creating more affordable housing. 

Nationally, a variety of religious groups and churches are calling for co-ordinated federal action on the problem. No less than the Canadian Council of Churches, of which the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is a member, has issued a declaration inviting the federal government to “partner with us in ending poverty.” The declaration calls for "inspired leadership and action."

The trouble is, there has been no shortage of federal reports and recommendations on poverty in the past few years. In 2008, there was Poverty, Housing and Homelessness: Issues and Options. In 2009, there was  In From The Margins: A Call To Action On Poverty, Housing And Homelessness.

Even the Salvation Army has a new poverty report. A spokesman says, "It's a case of not enough income, lack of access to the training required to get a new job, lack of affordable housing."

All of these reports have two things in common. First, they're heavy on concern and big spending, calling for more government research, programs, benefits, strategies and panels.

The second thing they have in common is that none of them comes close to identifying the greatest contributor to being poor in Canada. In the hundreds of pages of these reports, and the dozens of recommendations, there's not a single word about the primary cause of poverty.

It's the absence of fathers in households.

The effects of fatherless homes have been documented as thoroughly as the rainfall in Vancouver. Children who grow up without a father are more likely to end up in every single bad scenario you can think of, from poverty, to involvement in crime, to substance abuse, to dropping out of school, to sexual abuse.

Not only are fatherless homes a factor, they are far and away the largest factor, outweighing all the other causes put together. Fatherless kids are almost six times more likely to be poor, 20 times more likely to have behavioural disorders, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.

We can tinker with the minimum wage and talk about new support programs, but that's like painting the fence while your house is burning down. It might feel like home improvement, but it distracts from what's really needed: a fire hose and a search for the arsonist who set the fire.

Next: Identifying the arsonist.

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