Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Poverty in the Diocese of Albany

The following is a brief interview by a member of the Commission on Peace and Justice with Sr. Marianne Comfort, Public Policy Analyst at Catholic Charities of Albany and principal author of the recent paper “Poverty in the Diocese of Albany”. The Poverty Paper can be viewed here.

Can you briefly describe to us the impetus behind the Poverty Paper? Why it’s an important document and resource for anyone living in the Diocese of Albany?

There are actually two reasons behind the Poverty Paper 1) the 2005 Diocesan report on poverty was important and we wanted to update the data and 2) Catholic Charities USA came out with “Poverty in the USA” at the end of 2006 so we wanted a local response regarding how poverty looks in our diocese to accompany their campaign. We see this not only as a document but as a resource for public policy and as part of a larger CCUSA campaign to reduce poverty. The Poverty Paper shows what poverty looks like here in the Diocese and also some policy principles that could be implemented to ease that poverty.

What were some of the findings in your research that might be surprising to readers?

I think something that is shocking and that we should all be aware of is childhood poverty. Childhood poverty is more substantial than overall. Most shockingly is that in the city of Albany 41.6% of children live in poverty. That is incredibly distressing. For me personally, being a city person, the poverty in rural areas counties is also very disturbing. For example, in places like Delaware and Otsego it can cost up $60 in cab fare for a low-income family just to access things like medical services or a grocery store. We need to pay attention to fuel needs. Catholic Charities agencies are reporting increasing requests for gas and home heating bills.

Are you familiar with “the Davos Question”? The Davos Question was an initiative between the World Economic Forum, held in January in Davos, Switzerland, and YouTube and it asked the public to upload videos responding to the following question: “What one thing do you think that countries, companies or individuals must do to make the world a better place in 2008?” I’m wondering, based on the research done for this paper, what one thing do you think that public officials, companies or individuals must do to make the 14 counties of the Diocese of Albany a better place in 2008?

Personally I believe in the power of volunteerism & involvement. Mobilizing businesses, churches and individuals, and people getting involved on different levels, is so important. We talked about education being key to lifting people out of poverty. I think tutoring and mentoring are important there: mentoring in schools, tutoring children whose own parents can’t help them academically, mentoring adults, ESL classes. Even just providing children the opportunity to see beyond the realm of their own backyards, like bringing them to a college or a professional workplace, can give them a glimpse of what they can aspire to and help address the gap between people of means and those in poverty.