Taking On the Big Stuff

A fast look at just four critical areas facing American society today: Poverty, race, environment, and democracy.

Taking On the Big Stuff
3 mins read

A fast look at four critical areas facing America today: Poverty, race, environment, and democracy.

1. What is the definition of “poor”?

In the United States, for the government to consider a family officially poor, a household of four people must have total income of less than $22,050.

Repeat for emphasis: a family of four must live on less than $22,050 or they aren’t certifiably poor. And even with such a stringent guideline, one of every six children in America lives in poverty.

2. And in regards to America’s other great crime zone — race.

One in every three young African American men is unemployed… more than three times the rate of adults in general.

If this were happening in some country far away we would see it more clearly for what it is: structural abuse against a segment of our population.

3. Environmental Health

Did you know that one in every five visits to an emergency room by a child is asthma-related? Think about it: if we cleaned up our air and environment we would not only have healthier children, but imagine the money in health care that would be saved.

4. Democracy

The Supreme Court recently ruled (Citizens United) that unlimited corporate spending on elections is allowable. We nonprofits, meanwhile, are strictly prohibited from supporting candidates, ostensibly because of our tax-exempt status. But the federal government also spends $92 billion each year on “corporate welfare” (also known as corporate subsidies), while the nonprofit tax exemption reduces federal taxes by less: about $72 billion annually.

Corporate spending and millionaire candidates are distorting our elections everywhere, yet the rules are getting even less democratic.

And we haven’t even gotten to the prevalence of world hunger, or the absence of world peace.

These realities are what we in the nonprofit sector are working on: big, deep, societal issues that affect everyone in every community. And our goals are not more effective practices, not better logic models, not more detailed metrics.

We are taking on the big stuff, and our goals are to change these big realities. We can’t let ourselves be distracted by all the management advice we get, nor by the charges that we’re trivial or frivolous. We are working on the big stuff: changing the world.

(Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CBS News, National Safety Council, SubsidyScope, and Urban Institute, in order.)

About the Author

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Blue Avocado is an online magazine fueled by a monthly newsletter designed to provide practical, tactical tips and tools to nonprofit leaders. A small but mighty team of committed social sector leaders produces the publication, enlisting content from a wide range of practitioners, funders, and experts.

Articles on Blue Avocado do not provide legal representation or legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for advice or legal counsel. Blue Avocado provides space for the nonprofit sector to express new ideas. Views represented in Blue Avocado do not necessarily express the opinion of the publication or its publisher.

27 thoughts on “Taking On the Big Stuff

  1. I just want to say “thnk you”. I forward this to my staff and my board—good writing, good topics!  Keep it up!

  2. I just want to say “thnk you”. I forward this to my staff and my board—good writing, good topics!  Keep it up!

  3. While the non-profit portions of your newsletter is informative, I really do not think it is appropriate to propagate your personal political agenda as illustrated in this article. Leaving the liberal agenda behind, and just guidelines to non-profit.

  4. Just sent the article to my Board and suggested they subscribe.

    Jan, you are my hero! Only you could give a short paragraph to poverty, race, environment and democracy and still give them meaning and inspire action (or at least inquiry)!


  5. I wanted to comment on point number three: Environmental health. You state that "one in every five visits to an emergency room by a child is asthma-related" and that "if we cleaned up our air and environment we would not only have healthier children, but imagine the money in health care that would be saved."

    While I certainly agree that we need to clean up the environment and the air, I also believe (and their is scientific evidence for this) that possibly the main reason for the substantial increase in asthma cases among our children is that we do not allow them to ‘get dirty.’ Everywhere you look, you see people using and telling others (especially their children) to use antimicrobial/antibacterial soaps and sprays, surface and air disinfectants, etc. If we do not challenge our bodies with antigens (bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc.), they do not learn how to cope with them.

    When I was growing up, we played in the dirt and washed our hands with real soap (not disinfectant soaps).  Another serious disadvantage to all the antibacterial/antimicrobial/disinfectants soaps being used these days is that they foster the development of resistant microorganisms by killing the weak ones and leaving the strong ones; not a good thing. By the way I am a retired microbiologist.

    I love reading Blue Avocado and look forward to each issue.  Thank you for letting me voice my opinion. Best regards, Stan

    1. Stan, I really appreciate this thoughtful contribution. I am aware that there are differences of scientific and medical opinion about the causes for increased asthma cases in children. Once a child has asthma, though, there seems to be general consensus that air quality has a great impact on the degree to which the child is affected by the asthma. That’s why I felt on pretty firm ground linking air quality with visits to ERs for asthma-related issues.

      As a non-scientist I was glad to hear your view as a microbiologist about the problems with disinfectant soaps and avoidance of dirt. For one thing it made me feel better about having let my children get so dirty! One of them made a "Zen of Handwashing" poster for Blue Avocado (click here for it).

      Do you have any suggestions as to what ordinary people and ordinary nonprofits can do to combat the overuse of antibacterial soaps?

      Thank you, too, for your nice words about Blue Avocado. Jan

      1. Jan, I don’t disagree about your stance on air quality, as you noted above. Regarding the disinfectant soaps, I would suggest encouraging people to use regular hand soap, instead of the unnecessary, and usually more expensive, antibacterial products. It’s a tough battle, but an important one. Stan

  6. There is also another specific cause for the increase in asthma in this country. It has to do with the scientific and technical advances in saving very small premature babies at much higher rates than any time in history. Data shows as these children grow they often develop asthma.

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