How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Poverty & the Military – The Nine Percent Solution

By Peter Wise

Poverty stalks the land – in our region, our state, our country and the whole world.

Relative to our region let me pose a question: With all the great public eating establishments in Mercer County, which one does the most business? Answer: The Trenton Area Soup Kitchen – over 3,500 meals per week, 15,000 meals per month. It’s the most popular public eating place in all of Mercer County. Last year TASK provided 185,000 meals.

And this phenomenon is not just limited to Trenton. The Crisis Ministry non-profit reports a 50 percent increase in activity over last year at its Princeton food pantry.

On the state level, approximately one person in eight lives in poverty. This is confounding since New Jersey is one of the most affluent states in the country with a median household income of $67,000 according to 2007 economic research data by the USDA. Part of the reason for this poverty amidst affluence is that New Jersey is also a very expensive place to live. To pay rent of $1,000 per month requires an income of about $36,000 per year or $18 per hour. How many low paid workers in New Jersey make $18 an hour? The minimum wage is $7.15.

On a national level the United States is the wealthiest country on the planet. Yet one in six American children lives in poverty. That comes to 14 million kids!

So, how do we eradicate poverty in this wealthiest nation? It’s not that we don’t know what to do – it’s a matter of priorities and political will. We should raise the minimum wage to a living wage, provide affordable housing and health care, and increase funding to Head Start programs, job training and child care. We should expand addiction programs and reform criminal justice and immigration policies.

How much would such an expansive anti-poverty campaign cost? Estimates vary, but most experts agree we could mount a very robust anti-poverty campaign for around $90 billion per year.

Contrast the expense of this anti-poverty campaign with the current U.S. military budget of approximately $965 billion per year including the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Analytical Perspectives Book, FY 2009 Budget of the United States). That $965 billion amounts to about $8,000 for each and every household in the United States and is more than 10 times the cost of an effective anti-poverty campaign.

The United States spends more on its military than the next 15 countries in the world – combined. How many nuclear bombs do we need? According to the Brookings Institution, we spend $52 billion each year to have more than 6,000 nuclear warheads poised and ready to strike anywhere in the world.

So clearly we have here what could be called an opportunity cost. We could get all of the $90 billion we need to fight poverty in a massive way by using just 9 percent of the military budget. Could we not get along with “only” 91 percent of our present military budget?

Helping those trapped in poverty is not just the right thing to do. It is in our long-range societal and economic interest. It would result in fewer high school dropouts, less drug and alcohol addiction, less inner-city gang activity, less crime, fewer prisons and more young people gainfully employed. Society as a whole would have reduced health-care, criminal justice and education costs.

Should we not invest in people to create millions of new productive workers who would then be earning and paying income taxes rather than consuming social service benefits? Should we not reconfigure the military to reflect 21st-century realities rather than maintaining an anachronistic Cold War, nuclear armed, big weaponry posture?

It is difficult to see how America can live up to its promise of being a great nation and global leader as long as we’re saddled with the twin disgraces of widespread domestic poverty and wildly excessive military expenditures.