APU’s Department of Social Work Hosts Poverty Forum

by Logan Cain

On March 17, APU’s Department of Social Work hosted a cross-disciplinary forum on poverty in America. The event provided an opportunity for educators, students, and community members from different academic backgrounds to come together to discuss poverty from economic, national, and theological perspectives. Faculty panelists Anupama Jacob, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Social Work; Roger Conover, Ph.D., professor and chair of economics, finance, and international business; Kay Higuera Smith, Ph.D. professor in the Department of Biblical and Religious Studies; and Richard Slimbach, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Global Studies, Sociology, and TESOL led the conversation, which included a question-and-answer session.

Setting the framework for the forum, Jacob gave a talk on how different cultures define poverty. “Poverty is a term that, on a basic level, distinguishes between who is seen as poor and non-poor in society,” Jacob said. She described what she called the four major aspects of poverty: definition, selection of indicators, identification of individuals who are poor, and the development of poverty alleviation strategies. While all these factors play into poverty, Jacob said that America's federal measurement of poverty, which is 50 years old, does not take into account modern cost of living estimates. For example, in the 1960s food accounted for a third of a family's budget. Today, housing, healthcare, and other expenses comprise a much higher percentage of a family's budget than food. Jacob asserted that in reality, poverty is multidimensional, including both economic and social dimensions.

Next, Conover described the situational complexity of poverty. “Regional differences require supplemental considerations when defining poverty,” he said. Conover also stated that poverty should be perceived individually as well as socially. “As individuals move in and out of poverty, the variability of people’s specific impoverishment concerns needs to be recognized,” Conover said. “Poverty must be engaged at all levels.”

Smith echoed Conover’s points while providing a theological perspective. “Money is talked about in the Gospels more than any other topic, yet those of affluence interpret Jesus’ inaugural sermon in Luke to mean spiritually poor.” Smith believes this should highlight the importance of poverty in Christianity. “Jesus is most angered by those who propagate institutional oppression,” she said.

Slimbach added his global viewpoint to the discussion by pointing out that oppression in the world is not only between humans, but between humanity and nature as well. He clarified that while equality of resources is impossible, equal opportunity needs to be the focus of poverty alleviation. Finally, Slimbach challenged Christians, adding, “What would Jesus approve, reprove, and improve in our societies?”

The forum served as an example of how complex issues can be examined and better understood by bringing together diverse points of view. “Discussion of poverty from multiple angles is the best way to foster understanding and give voice to the voiceless,” said Jacob.

Logan Cain '18 is a public relations intern in the Office of University Relations. He is a biblical studies and humanities major in the Honors College.