Response for Stanford course on Poverty and Inequality module 2

It is said that nothing can be done about poverty. However, we probably know that many who say that, and who know it to be false, are masking a frustration at best or unwillingness at some worse level with efforts to invest in trying to do something. However as a nation, we widely suffer from two other ‘myths’ about effecting change in anything, which seriously hamper achieving lasting effects in anything. First, we expect relatively immediate results that allow us to terminate the effort. Second, we assume that anything involving large numbers of people must be handled by large institutions.
Poverty has certainly been around a long time, and it is clearly much worse in other places in the world than in the U.S., and that makes it look pretty intractable. It may appear rather like a cancer on humanity. So as with cancer, it seems reasonable that we would not say, "Oh, well, Humanity, you have cancer. So sorry. There’s nothing we can do." Poverty is certainly persistent and pernicious, and as with cancer, we must attack the cancer and its causes. We must continue that attack without looking for a quick return on investment, and with the understanding that we might not always have successes and we may never reach our goal in our life time. Furthermore those affected by poverty are people who feel the pain of that poverty. Grasping the idea of the suffering of millions of individuals, not just data sets, may suggest a way to strengthen solutions.
We too often expect institutions to handle all our big problems. We pay taxes that go out in Medicaid payouts. We contribute to food shelves. Often we write a check to an organization and consider our contribution to the cause has been made. These are all good things to do, but they are seriously diluted by overhead, and their work is often spread so thinly in has little effect. To support those efforts, volunteers working with individuals and families are already a valued asset, but there are few, and in many areas, no organized institutional efforts to locate, train and match up volunteers to individuals and families in need. In my city, if one person in 100 volunteered 1 hour a week to a child or family providing some of the factors we know lead to better school results, we might see an improvement in academic performance of roughly 3,000 students, about 10% of the public school population. A good thing about volunteering is that it is almost without cost; the best thing is seeing the direct results of the effort.
Just as with institutional efforts, the work must be ongoing – conception to graduation is about 19 years – and successes are never guaranteed. Combined with institutional programs, organized volunteering could make a significant impact.
This would be a culture change for American people, of course, and that’s a whole other Stanford course, I’m sure.

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About Jay C Ritterson
If I say nothing, it might be that I have nothing to say.

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