Hanging by a thread Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010 -- 1:00 AM

We may not always be aware of them, but they are there: people living in poverty. They are hanging on by a thread, barely making ends meet. They are often too proud to reach out for help.

We’ve heard about poor people in other countries of the world — and we need to help them, too — but the number of poor people in the United States continues to climb. From the year 2000 to 2008, the number of poor Americans grew by more than nine million to 36.5 million people.

editor's view by Mary C. Uhler

Those living in extreme poverty, that is, those with incomes below half the poverty line, rose to over 17 million people. That is the highest level on record since data first became available in 1975.

Building awareness

These statistics are shocking. However, with the recession we’ve experienced in the past year, the numbers living in poverty are higher than ever. In order to bring more attention to this issue, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) launched a new national awareness campaign in January that calls attention to these millions of Americans living in poverty. It also focuses attention on the struggles facing poor and low-income people who live below the poverty line.

The new poverty threshold for a family of four is $21,027 of income a year. The CCHD’s awareness campaign (found on its Web site at offers a glimpse at the struggles that poor families face today. One of the graphics shows how far $21,027 goes for a family of four having to pay for shelter, utilities, transportation, food, health care, and child care. Such a family would not be able to pay for all of these basic needs, let alone afford clothing, shoes, or educational expenses.

How to get involved: learn, act, give

What can we do? How can we get involved in helping alleviate poverty in this country?

The CCHD says the first step to solving a problem is to understand it. We can learn about the root causes of poverty and how people are finding success in ending it.

After learning about poverty, we can advocate for change in our community. The CCHD gives some suggestions on how to participate, act, and get involved.

The third step is giving of our time and talent, donating materials or money, or contributing resources. The CCHD Web site has some specific suggestions on how we can make a difference.

Local opportunities

In our own Diocese of Madison area, there are many opportunities to get involved through Catholic Charities, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Catholic Multicultural Center in Madison, and other parish outreach efforts.

One specific opportunity is the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s annual Recycle the Warmth Drive on January 29 to 31. The society is asking residents of Dane County to donate used or new blankets and bedding to be given to people in need. For more information, call 608-278-2920 or to to

Vincentians get acquainted with the poor when they make home visits to people seeking assistance. Ralph Middlecamp, executive director of the society’s District Council of Madison, said members often find needs that would shock the rest of us. “We still find that when we visit families requesting assistance, some kids have only their coats to use as blankets at night,” Middlecamp said.

Let’s get involved in learning more about poverty and helping pull people out of it into a more secure future.