I was shocked. “What do you mean? ”
“I mean, why is it important to end poverty?”
In my most high and mighty retort, “Its the right thing to do.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Why should I give United Way money to invest in programs that help poor people?”
I was losing some of my patience. “People in poverty don’ t have the opportunities that wealthier people have. They don’t have food, they don’t have health care, they don’t have the same education.”
“There were times in my life, when I struggled, and no one helped me. I just want to know why it is important that poor people should have health care, should have food, or should have an education. That’s all.”
Well, this was a conversation that I was losing and losing quickly, because I didn’t have the answer. I couldn’t move beyond my own belief that it is the right thing to do. So, I poked around, as I’m apt to do, to make sure I have the answers and can really talk about why ending poverty is important to all of us and here is what I found.
I discovered that there are some true economic costs to poverty, particularly to children as they grow up in poverty. It seems that when children grow up in poverty they are more likely to have poor health care later in life when compared to those children who are not poor. When compared to non-poor children, children in poverty are somewhat more likely to have lower earnings and are a bit more likely to engaging in crime.
Well, the “so what” is that economists have been able to quantify these costs. It seems that the costs associated with childhood poverty total about $500 billion each year. That is close to the equivalent of 4 % of the Gross Domestic Product.
Who cares about the Gross Domestic Product? Why does that matter to me?
Remember that Gross Domestic Product is correlated with the standard of living. So as Gross Domestic Product goes down, our own standard of living goes down. When Gross Domestic Product goes up, our standard of living goes up. The economists were able to demonstrate that worker productivity and output related to poverty reduces GDP by 1.3%, raises the cost of crime by 1.3% and increases health care costs by 1.2%. These are not costs that you or I have control over, they are underlying costs that are within the current economic system and the only way to really improve our own standard of living is to invest in programs that help eliminate poverty and raise the GDP.
I mean that when people are poor in my community, I pay for them one way or another. I might pay for it in terms of tax dollars that are needed to incarcerate people. I pay for it in terms of higher insurance premiums to balance the health care costs that are incurred when people are uninsured and receive health care. However, the problem is, I can’t fix the situation by improving my own income. Making more money will not decrease my taxes or health care costs. The problem can only be fixed by helping those around me who have not had the same opportunities as I have. It means helping them achieve their potential so that they can contribute to the economy by improving their own situation, and in turn, improve my situation.