Dare to Care
Miller, Lisa, Newsweek
Byline: Lisa Miller
A minister and the politics of poverty.
In a political season, it's easy for a journalist to be cynical--until David Beckmann walks into your office. Beckmann, in his blue blazer, looks like any Washington lobbyist, down to the dark circles under his eyes. But his message is completely without spin and his manner is as flat as the Nebraska plains where he grew up. An economist and former executive at the World Bank, Beckmann believes it is possible to end world hunger and poverty through good politics and policies. As a Lutheran minister and president of Bread for the World, a nonprofit aimed at turning decision makers' attention to those the Bible calls "the least of these," he believes a Christian has no other option. "If you want to get close to God, you've got to do right by the poor," he said last month at the National Press Club.
Though Beckmann has rubbed elbows with Bono and Angelina Jolie on the aid-to-Africa circuit, and though he continues to speak at the United Nations and to Congress on behalf of the world's poorest people--in Mozambique, for example, and Bangladesh--his recent mission has been to illuminate the plight of the domestic poor. And so he arrives at our meeting armed with numbers. In America, more than a million children were hungry in 2008, a 56 percent jump from the year before, according to numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (New hunger numbers are due out in November; analysts expect them to rise again.) Nearly one in four children had experienced "food insecurity," which means, in the vernacular, "sometimes not having enough to eat." According to new data from the U.S. Census, 14.3 percent of Americans are poor, up from 13.2 percent the year earlier--an increase of nearly 4 million people and the second-highest jump since 1960.
Hunger is related to poverty and poverty to unemployment. So it's no surprise that, with unemployment hovering at about 10 percent, U.S. poverty is going up. What particularly infuriates Beckmann, and this he expresses in the mildest way, is that despite all the midterm talk about "the next generation" and "our future," neither party has made poverty an election-year priority. "There has been no sustained effort to reduce poverty since Nixon," he says. …