If Jesus said "the poor you shall always have with you", this does not give us license to ignore them. Quite the contrary, if we can believe the account of the Last Judgment in Matthew's Gospel, our neglect of the poor will surely lead to our damnation.
How explain this seeming contradiction? How can the Catholic Church, as it has, preach "a preferential option for the poor" if the desired outcome would be to eliminate poverty, hence seemingly the poor themselves in the process?
The answer to that is, I think, pretty obvious. There are two kinds of poverty; one is absolute, the other only relative.
There will always be people who are, in relative terms, poor, -- that is whose income and whose standard of living will be less than average. Even the socialist dream of "to each according to his need, and from each according to his means" assumes that some people are less naturally favored while others are more so. For them, the idea was to level the playing field, so to speak, so that everyone could live a life with at least of modicum of freedom and dignity. The fact that this has turned out to be an impossible dream does not negate its biblical origins. Christianity, like any religion deals with ideals, and if these ideals have been replaced, in the United States, with "trickle-down" theories of economics, that does not negate the fact that all this remains in the realm of what might be called "relative prosperity and poverty".
Nevertheless, whether in secular or Christian terms, there can never be an excuse for absolute poverty -- if by this we mean the absence of sufficient food, shelter and food for survival. Yet millions, even in so-called "Christian" countries, and even billions of others around the world, continue to barely live and but not long survive under what can be barely called "civilized" conditions. How can this be?
I think, that at this point we see the real clash between religion and science. It is not whether the creation accounts in Genesis -- which were probably never meant to be taken as anything but metaphors -- need to be taken literally. Nor is it a question as to whether the human species is descended from the apes. It is rather whether or not humanity can ascend beyond them. Those who would justify the continued existence of absolute poverty as being "in the natural course of things" show themselves as little evolved beyond the apes, while those, who have striven to eliminate even relative poverty (even when their dreams have proved wildly impractical) probably need to be counted among those who have most advanced humanity beyond the law of the jungle.
R W Kropf 12/21/05 Poverty.doc 05-12-21.html