During this year’s Central Florida Poverty Conference held in June, Polis Institute Founder and Director Phil Hissom shared his response to a report on American Poverty from the Council of Human Rights at the United Nations.
Hissom comments on three specific issues raised in the report: the number of children in poverty, income inequality and incarceration rates. He also compares these issues to the core American values of liberty, egalitarianism, and democracy. Since there is a belief that these values will lead to wealth production, he posits the following question: Can we create a more broad-based prosperity in America through our current set of ideals?
These American ideals imply that production of wealth leads to the greatest good. In light of this, Hissom turns his focus to the business sector due to its ability to produce the wealth that is redistributed through the government and social sectors.
During his discussion he weighs the issue of children living in poverty against the value of egalitarianism. He explains the importance of positive labels on children, the education and support of children, their parents, and/or other parties who are raising them.
Next, he addresses the issue of income inequality and compares it to the value of democracy. He discusses the immense gap between groups of people due to wealth concentration and how that affects our electoral process.
He then addresses the issue of incarceration rates while contrasting it to the value of liberty. He explains that America has the highest incarceration rate in the world and how the poor are disproportionately affected by this issue. Along with this, he explains the issue of discrimination in the workforce. Despite low unemployment rates, wages are not enough to sustain a practical living.
Hissom believes that those core values (liberty, egalitarianism, democracy) are important in creating broad-based prosperity, but only by taking them more seriously. He also suggests that there are two other values which need to be elevated: dignity and interdependence, which he combines into what he calls “dignified interdependence”.
Dignity is the fundamental value of the human being and should foster an honest appreciation of what everyone has to offer. He emphasizes the significance of affirming people for who they are: human beings with inherent dignity that stems from being created in God’s image. He believes our job is to help people use their gifts so that they can have an impact on other people. Interdependence embodies the idea of people coming together for the good of the community. We will only reach our greatest potential when we all come together and celebrate our shared successes.
Does it trouble you that America is near the bottom of the list of developed countries in terms of how well we are addressing poverty? This video explains how we can best make use of our fundamental American values to move up that list and, more importantly, change lives and strengthen communities.