Polls reveal lack of concern for poverty

Oscar Chicas

So often we find ourselves lost in the perilous search for answers, especially while we’re here in college. With so many tests, quizzes, papers and other assignments we’re held accountable for, it’s hard to keep track of all the answers we’ve found. There are people who are paid to keep track of answers, though – pollsters.

Perhaps you or someone you know has been polled recently, most probably over the phone. The work of a pollster is pretty much an on going process. Politicians, journalists, and the proverbial talking heads have insatiable appetites for what their constituents and audiences are thinking. And the magic of statistical analysis allows pollsters to project their findings onto the whole of the country. Polling is quite exciting, as you can tell.

Polling is also quite revealing. For example, when asked what should be our country’s top priority, common responses included: the war in Iraq, job creation and economic growth, terrorism, rebuilding disaster areas, the energy crisis and even the budget deficit.

As we enter into the annual holiday season, ostensibly filled with the spirit of “giving,” one might wonder, how much do we actually give those who actually need? One might wonder, but we don’t. One issue was eerily absent from the minds of America in recent polling asking what should be our top priority: poverty, or at least one of its offspring, hunger, homelessness, or the pandemic of HIV/AIDS.

And I don’t think people meant jobs for the hungry and homeless when they mentioned job creation. And even if they did, one job just might not make ends meet. And even though our economy has been growing steadily for at least the past 25 years overall, numbers beyond the polls show that the rising tide is drowning many boats.

Granted, there is debate on what poverty means exactly, but the official number is approximately 36 million people living in poverty. Approximately one-third of those are children – that’s about 12 million children in poverty. I don’t like to use approximations, but they are the best numbers we have.

The worst part is – and this isn’t an approximation – by mean reversion, the percentage of people in poverty has gone up in the same twenty-five years the economy has grown, even with the shifting notions of what poverty means.

So what do we do? We in America normally hide them away in the inner cities or the far-out rural villages in the middle of who-knows-where. Maybe there are some right here in our own backyard, but we don’t know because we don’t care to look. The polls might not show very clearly where our priorities lie, but they clearly show where they don’t – with the poor and impoverished.

At this, a Catholic university, that reality should alarm us. Many of us are fortunate to have the resources to go abroad, on Habitat for Humanity trips or other service trips. As much as Villanova students do for those in need around the country and around the world, we must not forget that we can do much more for them by using our privileged positions here at home as college students and eventually as graduates to influence our leaders and institutions.

While we are well known for our globe hopping and the praise it brings to us is well earned, we would do much to garnish that reputation with the added prestige as a school that pushes for real, systemic change. We learn so much about the world around us – its economic systems, government systems, religious systems and other social structures – but how much questioning of those systems really takes place here at Villanova? We are so stuck on finding answers, we don’t often have the motivation to ask the questions that need to be asked. We’re students at a Catholic university, one whose name comes from the town of Villanova, the town where St. Thomas, Father of the Poor once lived. We are the ones that people are talking about when they say that someday, someone in the right place in the right time will have the right idea and ignite real change. Not at some big Ivy League school – not even Notre Dame or Georgetown – at Villanova. Why? Because no one will expect it from us – it’s a war on poverty, and all warfare is based on deception. If you’re deceived into not caring for others because their problems don’t affect you, then poverty wins the war.