The longest federal shutdown in American history just ended days ago, and the threat of a sequel looms just over the horizon. And while most Americans won’t feel direct long term effects from it, the devastation it wrought on over one million federal workers was seismic. Just as importantly, it revealed some very serious fault lines in the economic stability of our nation. Despite the assertion from some White House officials that responsible families should be capable of weathering such work stoppages, the evidence seems to suggest quite the contrary. The families forced to request mortgage extensions and visit food banks just to make ends meet indicate a problem that goes beyond the general chaos that a shutdown wreaks.
Charitable groups like the Robin Hood Foundation believe that responsible families should be capable of sustaining a few weeks without pay but that circumstances outside their control often make such practical necessities impossible. Claimed by its founder to be the largest anti-poverty non-profit in New York City, the Robin Hood Foundation stepped up to assist furloughed workers during the crisis, but they have their sights set on inoculating against the causes of poverty rather than simply battling the symptoms.
On the surface, an organization like the Robin Hood Foundation may seem ironic. Its mission statement is to battle systemic poverty even as its greatest donors are some of the richest people in the world. If those on the higher end of the income gap are committed to maintaining their wealth through low taxes on the wealthy and depressed wages, then how much can the voluntary donation of wealth help alleviate the problem?
It’s a question without an easy answer and potentially without any direct villains. That’s not to say that the wealthy can’t contribute to resolving the problem of systemic poverty, but the quick infusion of money likely won’t provide substantive and foundational change unless these groups work to build more direct and thoughtful relationships with activists operating on the ground level. And some of these ground-level activists argue that the sort of tactics employed by larger organizations are fundamentally neutered in nature and incapable of bringing about the sort of radical change that can cure the ills of the wealth gap. But regardless of the actions or intent of those involved, the shutdown revealed that it’s now practically impossible to recognize how precarious the economic situation is for so many families.