The two-time president of the National Council of Jewish Women, Esther Landa, introduced the speaker at a joint women's meeting at the Jewish Community Center Tuesday night.
"I've got to take a minute so you'll know why an Italian Catholic from Chicago who is the Belle S. Spafford Chair recipient at the University of Utah is speaking first at a Jewish women's meeting," Landa said. She then explained that she had heard Nancy Amidei speak and had been so impressed that the NCJW made Amidei a National Honorary Life Member. "I've been auditing her class at the university, so I can tell you Nancy has described herself as `a self-employed mouth,' " Landa joked.Amidei was a member of the Peace Corps in Nigeria, and after earning a master's degree in social work at the University of Michigan, she went to Washington, D.C., where she caught "Potomac Fever" and fell in love with government service. A faculty member at Catholic University in Washington and a visiting faculty member at the Washington University School of Social Work, Amidei focuses on the issues of women, children, hunger and poverty.
She began her speech with a humorous story about a woman in New England who signed up for Medicare but had a problem with putting her name on a loyalty oath (which was later struck down as unconstitutional). No matter how many forms were sent, the woman refused to sign the oath, saying, "I've been going to the same doctor for 30 years and it's never been a threat to the government." Finally a bureaucrat journeyed to her town and tried to explain the loyalty oath to her. "Look ma'am, do you advocate overthrowing the government by force or violence?" he asked. She thought a moment and said, "Violence."
Amidei then said, "If you offer people only bad choices - you shouldn't be surprised if they choose one. We need to offer people good choices."
"The poverty line for a family of three is $9,886. Forty percent of those in poverty live on half the poverty level or less," she said. "We have a new 4-H: the hungry, the homeless, the helpless and the hugless."
Amidei said that in America 12.8 percent of the population lives in poverty. But the 12.8 percent is not randomly distributed. "It's categorized by gender, age and race. In a white, two-parent home headed by a man, the poverty rate is 4.9 percent. In a black, one-parent home headed by a woman, the rate is 49 percent. Of all families in America, the poverty rate is 11.5 percent, but for the female-headed families the poverty rate is more than one-third," Amidei said.
"Much of what is in these numbers is preventable," said Amidei, who offered the following suggestions:
- It does no good for a woman to move off welfare into a low-paying job with no medical benefits. Businesses should be asked, "Are you paying at least $6/$6.50 an hour before taxes, and do you have health care for your workers, pro-rated if they're part time?"
- We need to "own" the problem, to be willing to be advocates to change the system.
- We need to be involved with people. One community had a school care fair where 26 agencies gathered to provide their services on the spot to check poor children into school. Social Security numbers were given, immunizations, WIC sign-ups, etc. Three thousand children were assisted in one day. Salt Lake City has the "Women Helping Women" program, where volunteers gather business clothing to prepare needy women for job interviews.
"Becoming informed about poverty is not enough. That's a little like going to a restaurant to read the menu," said Amidei. "We need to care enough to vote for the good of someone else's children."