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The suffering due to poverty can be temporarily alleviated when individuals, charities or governments step in to pay bills, but the long-term causes of poverty need to be addressed if the poor are ever going to be able to achieve self-sufficiency.

Matthew 26:11 states that “ye have the poor always with you,” which has proved to be a tragically accurate assessment of the human condition over the centuries. Despite many public and private efforts, poverty stubbornly continues to endure, and, even more tragically, it seems to be passed down from one generation to another. According to the latest report from the Utah Intergenerational Welfare Reform Commission, 48,281 children find themselves in situations where two or more generations have lived in poverty, and there is a significant statistical likelihood that their own children will live in similar conditions.

Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison rightly views this as unacceptable. "We owe it to these citizens, our citizens, to do something about this, to try to break continuation of generational poverty,” he said. “We owe it to them, and we owe it to ourselves to do this.”

Sakrison’s comments were made in an address to the Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center as part of the “Communities That Care” initiative, which is an effort by local governments to come together to find ways to help the poor in their communities. State government officials recently toured rural counties in an effort to provide support for local ideas to break families out of poverty, and even the federal government had gotten involved in addressing Utah’s economic challenges by sponsoring a rural impact demonstration project to alleviate child poverty.

What’s encouraging about this effort is that it recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to a seemingly intractable problem. This is not a case of a short-term crisis precipitated by a job loss or a death in the family. When poverty is passed down from generation to generation, the cultural and educational obstacles are as significant as the financial ones. The suffering can be temporarily alleviated when individuals, charities or governments step in to pay bills, but the long-term causes of poverty need to be addressed if the poor are ever going to be able to achieve self-sufficiency. That requires direct human engagement on a case-by-case basis, and not just someone writing a bigger check.

That’s why this local approach shows significant promise. It’s addressing the problem on the ground instead of from 30,000 feet. When we deal with a fellow human being one-on-one, that person ceases to be a statistic and is recognized as our neighbor and our own friend in need. While the poor may always be with us, we can better help them if we each choose, in our own way, to be with the poor.