The policy debate about poverty is stalled in Washington. How do we rekindle it? Enough ink has been spilled on the subject of immigration reform – it is time for action? What can be done? Pope Francis is inspiring the whole world, Catholic and non-Catholic alike – how can we amplify his message and translate it into policy choices? These are some of the issues we will be looking at in 2014.

My morning always starts happy.

I see Nora, 5, and Gabe, 2, staring at me from the fridge door. Happy and confident kids. They should be. They have loving, smart and financially secure parents who are backed up by an array of other relatives always willing to help. 

Typical American kids you might think? Not really. Nora and Gabe are very atypical. A recent report from the United Nations Children’s Fund says that among 35 industrial nations, America’s poverty rate for children ranks thirty-four. Only Romania is lower.

We hope you're not too surprised because if you are, you are one of the millions of Americans who accept the myth of America but have not come to recognize the realities of American life for tens of millions of our fellow citizens.

That reality can indeed be harsh.

How many poor are there in America, and how do we define poverty? Government figures show that we have approximately 46 million low-income fellow Americans. That means a family of four would be living on $23,000 per year. But there are other numbers we should know. Close to 100 million Americans, for instance, live just above the poverty line. It would not take much ---an uninsured illness, a lost job-- and these people would join the ranks of the poor.

Who are those hardest hit by poverty in America?  The answer is simple – and horrible. Twenty-two percent of all American children live in poverty and about the same percentage have times when they experience hunger. The Nation magazine says, “childhood poverty translates into poor health, poor education and poor prospects.  It’s no accident that the top country in international education rankings--Finland--also has the lowest poverty level.”

You would think that even the most morally obtuse and malicious right-wing politician would see that hurting our children is de facto killing the American future.

President Obama said a few weeks ago that inequality is the defining issue for America. We at CACG strongly agree. Inequality, poverty, the decreasing lack of social mobility in America-- all these issues are related and all are leading to blighted lives for tens of millions of Americans.

Over the course of the next ten months, we at CACG will explore major issues in the 2014 elections, continuing to serve as a clearinghouse for ideas from a variety of Catholics who care about the common good. Inequality may well be the most important of these issues. Inequality must be explored from a multitude of angles and we intend to do that.

Current Tea Party thinking holds that inequality and poverty are caused in large part by
globalization and technology and, of course, both play a role. They argue that poor people have in many cases themselves to blame. The poor are takers, not givers. We will explore and explode this simplistic and nonsensical viewpoint.  We hold that it is the very rich and international corporations who are the true takers in American society.

We feel we are joined in this viewpoint by Pope Francis who has attacked not capitalism but the corruption of capitalism, which has sadly become the norm in America. We will examine policy proposals from Democratic and Republican leaders on how to reduce inequality. America was once the envy of the world because its citizens could move up the ladder and, no matter where they started, they could reach their highest goals. All Americans needed was a level playing field and an honest referee.  We no longer have that reputation, indeed we are now at the bottom of industrial nations in social mobility. What happened? 

We will examine what the poor might be doing to improve their lot. And importantly, we will explore the role of the Catholic Church in the creation and moral education of our society. How can the Church’s efforts to alleviate poverty, through programs like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, be improved?  How do Catholic charities interface with other social actors in government and business and communities, to help lift up the poor, especially the children? The issue is urgent, and we look forward to examining the best ideas we can find and sharing them with our members.

Other issues claim our attention too, and immigration reform is at the top of the list. We have published many articles on this subject in the last couple of years. Now is the time for action. CACG will be joining other pro-immigration reform groups in a nationwide bus tour starting later this month and concluding on Easter Sunday. We will be lobbying members of Congress in their home districts and in Washington.

We also will be considering ways to remember, and carry on the work, of our dear friend Tom Melady, and we welcome ideas from our members. Should we have an annual lecture? A series of events to promote friendship within the Church? Let us know what you think.

Additionally, Christopher Hale, who joined us last year, will continue to make media appearances to speak on behalf of our organization, articulating the Catholic values and vision that is now being so clearly and forcefully set forth by Pope Francis.

And, on March 13, the Church will celebrate the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. We expect plenty of non-Catholics will be celebrating too! When we collected messages from our members for his birthday last month, more than 1,000 of you responded! We will be looking at ways to commemorate this important anniversary in the life of the Church.

So, in short, we have a lot of work head here at CACG. We will continue to use these forum pieces to discuss ideas, to advance the conversation, to remind people that there is always a moral and human reality behind dry budget numbers and seemingly complex policy discussions. And, as Catholics, inspired by Pope Francis, and following in the footsteps of the Lord, we will continue to focus our energy, our minds and our love on those whom Jesus loved best, the poor and the marginalized.

Thank you for all you did in 2013. We won’t be shy about asking you to do more in 2014!

This Week's Must Reads

Melinda Henneberger, at the Washington Post, on the sad national debate about poverty:

Also at the Washington Post, Michael Gerson also calls for a renewed focus on poverty

At the New Republic, Tod Lindberg on Republican rhetoric on inequality

At America, the editors on the ACLU lawsuit against Catholic hospitals

At Commonweal, Luke Hill on the Langone controversy in New York City

Meghan Fincher, at National Catholic Reporter, on using photography to help prisoners in solitary confinement