In a career that spans more than 40 years working with nonprofit agencies, it’s rare that I’m stunned by the circumstances I’ve seen in various communities around our country. But some recent government reports have given me cause for even greater concern.
In September, government studies indicated that 46.6 million Americans were now living in poverty. Just last week, the United States Census Bureau revised those numbers upward to 49.1 million, or 16 percent of all Americans are now considered poor. Regardless of which number is most accurate, it’s a frightening reality to know that poverty is so extensive in the United States of America, the most prosperous nation in the world.
Changing Definition of Poverty
The definition of poverty as well as the portrait of the poor has changed drastically in recent years. More and more of those struggling to survive are elderly, Latino and working-class people. Economic data establishes the “poverty line” at approximately $22,000 a year for a family of four. The Washington Post recently reported that half of all U.S. workers earned less than $26,364 in 2010, which accounts for the lowest median wage since 1999. Other research says almost half of those living actually below the poverty line – approximately 20.5 million Americans – are considered the poorest of the poor, with incomes of $5,500 or less.
Among the hardest-hit areas of our county is Florida due to high unemployment and the collapse of the housing market. What this means for organizations like Heart of Florida United Way and our partner agencies is that our work is more important than ever. As someone who remains optimistic about our state and country’s ability to recover, nothing would derail economic growth faster than basic human needs like food, shelter, clothing and utilities still going unmet for thousands of our friends, family members and neighbors.
National Philanthropy Day
November 15th is widely recognized as National Philanthropy Day. It’s an opportunity to shine a positive light on the spirit of compassion and charity that exists among individuals, companies and charitable foundations around the country. Today, the Central Florida Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals held its 26th celebration of philanthropy, honoring those locally whose financial contributions and volunteerism deliver much-needed support to a multitude of charities and worthwhile causes.
As we pause in sincere gratitude to those honorees, we do so as a rekindling of the commitment needed from all of us to help those most in need. While the approaching Holiday Season is often a period of giving, I urge all of us to make compassion for our fellow Central Floridians a year-round commitment.
Robert H. (Bob) Brown is President/CEO of Heart of Florida United Way.