“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.”

Martin Luther King, Nobel Lecture, 1964

Poverty is a global challenge. According to the World Bank in 2013, “10.7 percent of the world’s population lived on less than US $1.90 a day.” The measurement of this number has been made more accurate by the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2014 (MPI), which calculates the world’s poor to be 1.6 billion (How Many People Are Actually Poor, Atlantic Magazine).

The extreme nature of global poverty rightly draws the attention of a vast number of organizations. I have been fortunate enough to work with some of them, and the experience has been sobering and rewarding. It has also caused me to reflect on America’s poor.

Since the United States is widely considered the richest country on earth, our poor can be forgotten. Having worked myself in poor neighborhoods right out of college, I believe it is important for Americans to understand that we have poor people in our own backyard. We must not forget the enormous waste of human potential taking place in U.S. communities everyday because of the ravages of poverty.

There are 10 facts that force me to face the suffering of America’s poor, who are more often than not invisible unless we live among them.

  1. The poverty threshold in America is $24,339 dollars for a family of four.
  2. 13.5% live in poverty which represents 43.1 million people.
  3. 3. 6% (19.4 million) people live in deep poverty, which is an income 50% below the poverty rate.
  4. Over 30 percent of women who are heads of their households with no husband present live in poverty.
  5. 29% of people living with a disability live in poverty.
  6. 19.7% of all children (14.5 million, or every 1 in 5) live in poverty.
  7. 2.5 million of these poor children experience homelessness.
  8. 12.7% (15.8 million) US households had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources.
  9. 30.3 million children are impoverished and require subsidized lunches.
  10. Poverty rates by race
    a. Blacks – 24.1%
    b. Hispanics – 21.4%
    c. Asians – 11.4%
    d. Whites – 9%

While numbers can be mind-numbing, we must remember these are people. For this reason, I highly recommend reading, “What Do We Think Poverty Looks Like?” This fascinating article will put a face on those numbers and hopefully help us connect emotion to the problem of poverty.

Connecting emotion to the plight of the poor is a primary step toward empathy, and true empathy will inspire action. This brings us to our big question: What type of “Doing Good Project” can be done to help the poor?

While there are many large organizations devoted to helping the poor and I would recommend volunteering or donating, let’s consider something different…

Jorge Campos, a formerly homeless high school student who travels 140 miles to school every day, will be attending Harvard University this fall on a full scholarship. You can read his amazing story here.

Once you read his story, consider a more personal “Doing Good Project,” one that allows you to actually know and support an individual or small group whose resources and opportunities are far fewer than your own.

Perhaps it could be by volunteering to tutor disadvantaged students or those with a disability? Maybe your family would like to adopt a family experiencing a crisis and help them get back on their feet? You and your roommates might consider joining a Big Brothers Big Sisters program?

There is something special about personally touching a life that exceeds simply giving a financial donation. NPR tells the story of people and programs with a personal touch here.

Just one more thing. We know there are many of you who already help the poor, and we would like your help. Please send us your suggestions and ideas for “Doing Good Projects” that would allow us to make a personal impact on poverty.