Will you help fight poverty in the region?

Mark A. Heckler
President, Valparaiso University
January 4, 2009

Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time.

The World Bank (www.worldbank.org) uses these words to describe poverty. About 1.4 billion people live in poverty, which the World Bank defines as per-capita incomes of between $1.25 and $2 per day. We see pictures of hungry children on our television screens regularly, as organizations seek donations to help feed, clothe and treat the poor in developing nations.

The World Bank (www.worldbank.org) uses these words to describe poverty. About 1.4 billion people live in poverty, which the World Bank defines as per-capita incomes of between $1.25 and $2 per day. We see pictures of hungry children on our television screens regularly, as organizations seek donations to help feed, clothe and treat the poor in developing nations.

Poverty exists much closer to home, perhaps even on your street.

In 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau defined poverty for a family of four at an annual income level of $21,027. According to the soon-to-be-released 2008 Quality of Life Council Indicators Report, 14 people out of 100 fall within this category in Northwest Indiana. This is up substantially from the 9 percent poverty rate for our region in 2005.

Northwest Indiana's children fare far worse. Among children under age 18, nearly one in four children in our communities lives in poverty. They go to bed hungry at night. They don't have heat in their homes or might not have a place to live. Their parents work, but cannot earn enough to make ends meet.

The 2008 poverty indicators for Northwest Indiana are not headed in the right direction. Our poverty rates remain significantly higher than the rest of Indiana and the United States as a whole, and they have increased since the 2004 Quality of Life Council study. These statistics do not account for what has happened to our region since the recent economic crisis has swelled the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed. Clearly, the region's poverty index will climb higher still.

We can reduce the number of families living in poverty, but only if we come together as a region to tackle the roots of this complex problem.

More need to volunteer their time to support organizations fighting poverty. More need to give money and food to those who cook meals and maintain food pantries to feed the hungry. More need to support economic development efforts to attract, keep, and diversify businesses in our region. Elected leaders and local developers must work together to bring more affordable housing on line.

Those of us in the education sector must work together to get more of our young people through high school and into college. We must ensure that higher education is accessible and affordable for low-income families. We must provide the academic and social support services to keep low-income students in school and graduate them. More underemployed adults must be encouraged to attend community colleges.

It will take a concerted effort among individuals, businesses, government, churches, educators and nonprofits to reduce poverty in Northwest Indiana.

Will you add "doing my part to reduce poverty" as one of your resolutions for 2009?