Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Heartaches by the Numbers

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Heartaches by the Numbers

Article excerpt

Has anyone noticed that we Americans are becoming increasingly hard-hearted? It isn't so much that we seem to be more often hostile to others, particularly those less fortunate than we, but that significantly we have become indifferent to others. "That's not my problem, man," as the saying unfortunately goes.

This spreading indifference was noticeable, for example, during the 1996 debate about welfare reform. Shockingly, to some at least, that debate was largely about numbers rather than people. We incorporated a perfectly legitimate business term, "cost-benefit analysis," and applied it to people, many of whom were caught in the welfare trap. The question became not whether people on welfare needed help from the government, but whether we (the rest of us) could afford that help. And most of the rest of us showed little concern while the numbers were being crunched.

No one can deny that in a federal, state, and local program as large as our welfare system, there were and are abuses, imbalances, and inefficiencies in the administration of these programs and abuses on the part of the recipients of them (although the later abuses were often exaggerated or sensationalized). And, arguably, welfare needed reform, and some of those reforms put in place have already brought about improvement.

The concern here, however, is not so much the programs themselves but our too prevalent "let them eat cake" attitude toward our fellow citizens who are dependent on government assistance for food, clothing, and shelter. Okay, some can support themselves by working if jobs they can fill are available as, thank God, they are at present. But what about those, the so-called hard core, who simply don't have the skills to fill even entry-level jobs--the physically challenged, the illiterate, those unfortunates whose brains aren't able to understand the simplest instructions? Do we care about them, or are they someone else's problem?

When we're reminded that Jesus taught us we must love our neighbors as ourselves, our response is, "of course." But in our minds we think, that's a high-class solution, one that too often we obey in absentia. The nitty-gritty is that we have our own fish to fry.

The recent and continuing brouhaha about immigration reform (there's that word again) is another case in point. And like the welfare debate it, too, is marked by an abundance of opinions and a minimum of understanding. …

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