Make Income Inequality Less Abstract By Highlighting Poverty and Hunger

Mississippi river barge

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) did not invent the phrase "income inequality," but he's probably done as much as anyone else to put it into contemporary American consciousness during the last decade. Like any other politically relevant concept, some believe it is of vital importance to the health of our democracy, and others equate it with Communism or Venezuelan socialism (because that is the only form of socialism we are allowed to consider). One challenge with this and many other terms we encounter in a political context is that they can be too abstract for many to grasp. And so, I find it helpful to remember that ideas like this only remain abstract if we fail to apply them.

Mississippi's Clarion Ledger recently published an article by Sarah Warnock of the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting titled "Reaping what is sown at arms length, food pantry seeks to end hunger in the Mississippi Delta." Without digging too far into the details of the story (I realize people are quick to tune out as soon as anyone mentions poverty, hunger, or similar issues), we can boil the whole thing down to one simple message: Despite producing food that benefits many of us, Mississippi's Delta region has been plagued by extreme poverty, malnutrition, and lack of access to healthy food for decades. Even today and even in the "greatest country in the world," the predominately Black region is afflicted by hunger.

It is great to hear that there are efforts underway to improve the situation. Some may bristle that these efforts involve clergy, but at least they are trying to make sure people have food. It baffles me that we have allowed things to deteriorate to the point that local volunteers, including clergy, are what some Americans have to depend on to get enough to eat. It isn't like these are new problems or that we have any excuse for being surprised by them. And none of this is limited to places like Mississippi.

I am now imagining just one billionaire deciding to cancel his next planned space flight and donate the money saved to a small town in the Mississippi Delta or a similar region in another state. Seems unlikely doesn't it?

I am glad that the Democrats (and a few Republicans) were able to pass some infrastructure legislation. It is not nearly enough, but it is something. And I hope there will be more. But as important as safe roads are and as nice as it would be to finally bring the Internet to parts of Mississippi and other regions that are still without it, I can't shake the sense that people going hungry in 'Murica should be a priority too. I'm sure these things are all interconnected. Maybe some living in these areas will be able to use the Internet or the roads to earn money. Still, I'd like to see some targeted government efforts to end hunger and food insecurity in places like this.

Warnock concludes her article with a quote from Willie Hodges, described as "an elder at Guiding Light Church of God in Christ":

Growing up here, you know, when I was a boy, if you had, then your neighbor had. If you didn’t have, and your neighbor had, then you had. We believed in sharing.

That is a nice sentiment, though I hate the idea that those who have so little to share always seem to be the ones doing the bulk of the sharing. The people living in the Delta and so many other areas of a country that not long ago was often described as a "superpower" should not be in this situation. And it should not fall on local volunteers and clergy to fix problems like this.

When I hear Sen. Sanders or others talk about "income inequality" and why it should matter, I think of the Mississippi Delta and other impoverished communities throughout the United States. I think about how some of the people living there are not getting enough to eat while many of us sometimes buy more food than we consume, throwing away the waste. I think about how we set aside one day of the year to celebrate our gluttony, even as some of "our fellow Americans" go hungry.

I will be taking most of the rest of November off to attend to some health issues that can no longer be avoided. For those who celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you have a good one. For those who prefer to skip it, more power to you. With the war on Christmas quickly approaching, you'll need your energy!