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December 31, 2013

Making use of holiday leftovers

I could somehow dismiss “The Rich and The Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto” by radio talk show personality Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornell West, if it weren’t for the holiday season, the time of year when we honor the purveyor of charity for mankind, the one who challenged the money changers in the temple, and who multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the masses. Jesus recognized then that the poor will always be among us.

But according to Smiley and West, a new kind of poverty has invaded our lives, one that affects the future prosperity of our country and jeopardizes not just the American Dream, but American democracy itself. Poverty has become the final battle ground following our hard won victories over slavery, women’s suffrage, and civil rights, and it is indifferent to race, gender or creed. According to Smiley and West, almost 1 in 2 Americans either lives in poverty or very close to it. They claim, and they may be right as we saw during the Great Depression with the rise of the Communist Party here, that poverty even jeopardizes our national security.

Smiley and West also make the very strong point that today’s poor are often people who have no control over their economic situation. College graduates who are working at minimum wage, retirees whose benefits have been robbed through corporate greed, and a dwindling middle class whose dollars don’t stretch as far as they used to all comprise the “new poor.” Lest you think poor is a relative term, the independent PISA exam of math ability shockingly shows American students fourth from the bottom just above Mexico, Chile and Turkey in poverty and student achievement.

Smiley and West predict that ending poverty is the last in a chain of civil rights movements. On New Year’s Day, 1931, the economic crisis was predicted to be over by the end of the year, while Communist International declared that capitalism was entering its final stage. On this New Year’s Day, with unemployment laws changing, we could be looking at what is truly a crisis in survival for American families. Today is a day for resolutions. If we cannot end poverty, perhaps on this day we could vow to be more conscious of the problem or take action against it. We have taken actions before that were effective in reducing poverty from 22% in 1959 down to 11% in 1973. This time the rest of us may have more of a vested interest, if Smiley and West are correct.

Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous New Year. Increase your wealth by thrifty use of those holiday leftovers with these flavorful recipes.

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