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My Take: Five misconceptions about poverty in America
Bread for the World President David Beckmann explores five poverty myths.
September 23rd, 2011
12:29 PM ET

My Take: Five misconceptions about poverty in America

Editor's Note: Rev. David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World and the Alliance to End Hunger. He is the 2010 World Food Prize laureate.

By David Beckmann, Special to CNN

(CNN) - In the midst of a ballooning deficit, an unbalanced federal budget and the upcoming presidential election, Congress doesn’t need to be worried about poverty in America, right?

Wrong.

Poverty is an all-too-familiar struggle for many Americans, and they have a stake in how these issues play out over the next months.

I believe God is calling us to change the politics that render our friends, neighbors and co-workers hungry and poor. To do so, we have to first tackle some common misconceptions about poverty.

1. “Poverty doesn’t exist in the United States.”

Although poverty often appears less extreme in the United States than in other countries, it is nonetheless real. There are 46.2 million Americans living in poverty, according to data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The poverty rate increased to 15.1% in 2010, from 14.3% in 2009. That's nearly one out of every six Americans — the highest rate since the Census began tracking poverty data in 1959.

Children and multicultural groups were hit hardest. The poverty rate increased for those under 18, from 20.7% in 2009 to 22% in 2010. Among Hispanics, the rate went to 26.6% in 2010 from 25.3% in 2009. And for African-Americans, the rate soared to 27.4% in 2010 from 25.8% in 2009.

2. “There is no such thing as extreme poverty in America.”

If you don’t believe poverty exists in this country, you’ll be hard-pressed to understand that there are people in America living in “deep poverty.”

Deep poverty means living below 50% of the poverty line, which would be an income of $11,157 for a family of four and $5,672 for a non-elderly person living alone.

Many think this level of poverty is exclusive to people living in developing countries, but the number of people in America living in extreme poverty has reached a record high: 20.5 million in 2010.

3. “If you live above the federal poverty line, you’re doing just fine.”

$23,000 a year is too little for most two-person households to live comfortably in America, let alone a family of four. Most people don’t understand that having a job doesn’t mean you’ve made it out of poverty.

In fact, working full-time at minimum wage earns you only $14,000 a year. But there are also millions of Americans living above the federal poverty line who are struggling to make ends meet.

Why is it so easy for us to overlook poverty in the United States? Because to a certain extent, it is being managed by federally funded safety-net programs that help families make ends meet when times are tough.

4. “These so-called safety-net programs cost American taxpayers money when we need to be focused on balancing our budget.”

Neither SNAP benefits (what used to be called food stamps) nor refundable tax credits such as the earned income tax credit is accounted for in the census poverty figures.

If these benefits were included, they would show that SNAP lifted 3.9 million people above the poverty line in 2010, and the tax credit lifted 5.4 million people above the poverty line in 2010.

Programs like these can mean the difference between getting by and going hungry.

For example, despite increases in poverty, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recently released hunger data shows that the percentage of families struggling to put food on the table remained unchanged for the third consecutive year.

This means that nutrition programs such as SNAP and school meals are keeping hunger at bay.

5. “Fifty percent of all Americans do not pay taxes.”

This is a powerful point that some members of Congress like to argue, without providing any context.

By context, I mean that many Americans do not earn enough to pay taxes. For those who do, when payroll taxes are taken into account, really only about 15% of Americans did not pay taxes in 2010 (excluding Social Security recipients, who do not pay taxes on their Social Security benefits), and this still fails to account for state and local taxes.

Everyone pays taxes in some way or another.

At the end of the day, Matthew 25 teaches us that what we do unto the “least of these,” we do unto God.

It is clear that the needs of hungry and poor people are at the center of the congressional budget debates, whether we want to acknowledge them or not.

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction has until November 23 to identify $1.2 trillion in funds to reduce our nation’s deficit. We pray that the needs of hungry and poor people are at the center of their decisions.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Food • Politics

soundoff (902 Responses)
  1. tony

    I was married 5 years before we had children, to the women I had dated for 5 years before that, with both of us working full time. We waited until we were more mature emotionally and financially. There used to be a planned parenthood commercial that said "make a life for yourself before you make another life." More people should live by this rule. I think many people have little sympathy for the poor, because for several generations, mostly free education was available to most if not all people in America. Some people chose to not take advantage of the best free opportunity they will ever have in life and are now paying the price for the lack of effort on their and their families part.

    September 23, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  2. Aniram

    wow!!! reading so many of these posts makes me realize how ignorant, non compasionate, greedy, people the american's really are. And they think they are so great! I don't get it. So many nasty, mean posts.

    Can't wait until you all come face to face with your maker.

    September 23, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • kenny

      Exactly! If a person feels a moral obligation to help others, he or she should do it voluntarily through their church. No one should be forced to through their government.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • NOo..oON

      @Aniram,
      'Can't wait until you all come face to face with your maker.'
      You're right! How could He have made us that way... what was He thinking?

      September 23, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • William Demuth

      My parents are dead, but I HAVE been face to face with them on many occasions in the past

      September 23, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  3. kenny

    I wonder how many people who are "poor" made a conscious decision to drop out of school? I know that here in Cleveland, 30% of public school students do. And we are supposed to support them forever?

    September 23, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  4. What?

    This article is a misconception in and of itself.

    Who on the planet has misconceptions one, two and three? Of course there are poor people everywhere. But if someone did have this misconception, the author's argument isn't going to convince anyone. "Oh, you define poverty as some government defined income level and extreme poverty is 50% of that. Okay, what do you call it when you and your family are dead because you starved to death? Super duper extreme poverty?" This logic only proves that some people define poverty differently than others.

    The author then doesn't even try to argue against misconception 4. He just changes the subject from taxes and priorities to the fact that giving people money makes their income higher. Really?

    The author makes sense regarding misconception 5 but I'm not sure he's going to change anyone's mind on this point.

    I'm all for religious leaders having and promoting compassion for the poor, but this kind of "we're not making any sense right now" discussion does not convince anyone to help them.

    September 23, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  5. epicjourney

    The fact is one has to try really hard to starve in this country. No-one is starving, just look at how many obese kids we have where their parents are low income and get food stamps.

    September 23, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  6. W247

    How do you define wealthy and how do you define poor? There is always going to be someone wealthier then you and there will always be someone poorer then you.

    September 23, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • David Johnson

      If you use a progressive income tax, it is pretty easy.

      Cheers!

      September 23, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Robert

      The government defines 'poor' as a family that does not earn enough to afford the basic necessities of life. They limit these necessities to food and housing, using a formula developed in the 1950s. While it is adjusted for inflation increases in the price of food are ignored in the calculation for inflation rates they use since food prices are considered too 'unstable'.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • israel

      there are limits that will define who is poor, and wealthy

      if you make $15,000 a year, you are poor, you don't even make enough to afford a new car in one year

      if you make $250,000 a year, you are rich, you make enough to buy 5 houses in western new york (2 floors, 2 bathrooms and 4 bedrooms for $35000) each year

      i'd say that is a good indicator of who is rich and who is poor, yes there is always someone poorer than you or richer, but there is a limit at which you can say "i am poor, i can't afford to buy myself food each week" and vice versa

      September 23, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Ms Kira

      My husband and myself make about 40,000 dollars a piece annually and we have 1 child.. some people think that is a decent income and some people think that is poor... it is all about planning. We try to make sure we always have money saved so when something unexpected happens we are not put in the hole financially... We both have bachelor degree's so I think that is not a lot of money considering we are college educated but it is due to the economy that we feel under-employed. We are both in graduate school so hopefully the income will go up in a few years or so.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Edwin

      In response to What?:

      People without that money simply can't pay. If you are proposing a Job Guarantee program which allows everyone to actually earn that money, then I am 100% for it. Otherwise you are asking for money where there is none.

      In the Middle Ages, tax collectors came around and took belongings or children to make the total. If you were too poor, then you lost your home - so you died that winter. Or maybe you were able to sell two of your children into bondage (a nicer word than slavery), or perhaps you could marry your prettiest daughter off to someone for some money.

      When the right posts I often think they admire that system. There is so much anger on both sides that I think all we read is hateful ranting and wishes for evil. I do not notice it as much on the left because I am more aligned with them, but I am sure it is there, too.

      Words are useless. Boards like this are useless, except to generate more anger. What is needed is not anger. What is needed is individual citizens DOING something HELPFUL. I make a lot less than most people in my community, but I help where I can. I buy food for the poor every week. I offer free day care to a mother who works two jobs to support her kids. I volunteer at school to help children who have no safe place to learn outside of class. A friend of mine takes his family every week to feed the homeless and to listen to them, to give them some hope. Another friend works for free at Goodwill.

      My advice: stop complaining. Stop blaming someone else for not paying enough, or for mooching off your hard-earned dollars. Stop posting. Start HELPING. If we are already paying good money to hire politicians to scream and posture and yell at each other, then stop trying to do the same. Let THEM scream. We hired them, presumably, to do that.

      Do what YOU can do to HELP. Not what you can do to COMPLAIN.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  7. Lhpten

    The actual statistic is that almost half of the people in this country pay no FEDERAL INCOME TAX. And of those who do not, many get money back from the feds when they file a tax return. Shouldn't everyone in this country pay federal income tax?

    September 23, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • SanerThanAll

      Answer: Yes

      September 23, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • David Johnson

      There will always be a minimum income, below with no income tax is collected.

      A progressive income tax is fair and effective. More you make, the more you pay. Simple. It's what Jesus would do.

      Cheers!

      September 23, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Edwin

      You question is well posed, but I think the answer should be obvious to anyone who thinks long enough about this. The answer is NO.

      If you make too little to afford one meal a day (rice plus something vegetable-ish) for your family of four in addition to a one-room structure to live in, you do not have the means to pay taxes.

      A lot of people complain about everyone paying their "fair share" - but there is NOTHING fair about poverty. There is nothing fair about some families having $1,000,000 incomes while others have less than $10,000. Why should the tax structure strive to be "fair" when income distribution is nowhere near fair or even reasonable?

      September 23, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • lMARTIN

      . There is a table that is used to determine everyones taxable income. IF you don't make enough money to pay taxes then you don't pay them. You do pay other taxes like sales taxes etc. I am amazed at the lack of compation for the poor. I am amazed at the people who have a totaly misconstruded conception of who is poor. Everyone seems to be angry that there are poor people. How do expect a person with a family making $22,000 a year to pay for rent, grocerys, medicine, healthcare, clothing, transportation, car insurance, and all of the things that you pay for, then to pay SS, Medicare, and State and federal taxes and be able to keep their heads above water????? I don't understand how ignorant and uncaring people in the country have become. What if we left Gods name off and just stated that we should all take care of each other....would that please your sensibilities. It Think you are using excuses to not care by blaming the biblical theology!! GET OVER IT AND JUST DO WHAT IS RIGHT!

      September 23, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "A progressive income tax is fair and effective. More you make, the more you pay."
      Not sure I agree. Fair is a subjective statement and depends on your perspective. As for effective, I would think that avoiding the next marginal tax rate, aka tax bracket, drives many tax avoidance strategies, both legal and illegal.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "There is nothing fair about some families having $1,000,000 incomes while others have less than $10,000. Why should the tax structure strive to be "fair" when income distribution is nowhere near fair or even reasonable?"

      Life is not fair! I'm not saying that the current situation and wealth/income gap is right, but attempting to make things "fair" is a recipe for failure, e.g. communism. Besides this country was built on equal opportunity and equality before the law, not equal income or standard of living.
      Now addressing a minimum standard of living allowable for all citizens/residents/(?) makes a lot of sense, but I would not call that fair, just perhaps, but not fair.
      Is it fair to force someone to pay for someone else's consumption? (If you think so, I have a mortgage, you can pay for me.)
      If you think it is fair, then at what level? Is it fair to give Bill Gates a $50,000/year income and take everything else. Why? Why not?

      September 23, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • What?

      I for one don't think that everyone should pay income taxes even though I pay enough to cover about 5 of the slackers most years.

      But rather than whining about how so many people don't pay income taxes (which is just the reverse of the left's whining that so many people are poor), the right should just be honest and make the following argument: Everyone should pay their fair share, i.e., the same total taxes. $3.5 trillion in government cost divided by 200 million people... everyone owes $17,500 on tax day. Cough it up or we put you to work to pay it off. That's an honest, logically consitent argument that would make the left justify wanting the rich to pay so much more than that. Anything short of dividing taxes up equally is just where to draw the line on how progressive taxes should be. The left thinks more, the right thinks less. Which gets us getting no where.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  8. Jay Cool (jaycool.net)

    If you are only making 11,157.00/year then you make less than the federal minimum wage, which means you haven't done enough to get legitimate work. Wal-Mart still hires as well as lots of other places, all of which have to abide by the minimum of 7.25/hr

    The percentage of folks "below the poverty line" likely do NOT pay taxes, because they cant be working a legitimate job and not do so. Th numbers just don't add up.

    September 23, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • lMARTIN

      "legitimate job"????? where have you been??? living in your big house getting richer off of all of us!!! Millions of people are out of work! they are taking whatever they can get! most of them are lucky to get anything. I was out of work for a year. I make 9,000 less a year then I did before, but i have a job!! What a pompos butt you are!

      September 23, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Edwin

      If you are extremely poor, you probably do not have enough to buy interview clothes or a decent haircut, and you probably haven't eaten a decent meal in quite some time. Walmart hires workers who are in full view of the public - they do not want people with raggedy clothes and poor hygiene working there. Poverty begets poverty - if you are very poor, it is hard to pay for the services necessary to escape poverty.

      And as for your dollar figures, let's assume minimum wage. Let's give the single mother of two a minimum wage job (minus child care, of course). Do the math: she will have a net income below the poverty line. To break out of poverty, she needs two full-time jobs and free child care - of course she won't have any real time to give her kids (let alone herself). And where does she get that free child care?

      Even a family with two parents cannot make it on one full time job at minimum wage, and only barely on two full time jobs like that. And those jobs are pretty scarce right now.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  9. mike mcglynn

    There is no difference between a christian and republican(aka)spreders of hate and greed. That is one of the many reasons a republican can never get to heaven. They lack compassion and are proud of it.

    September 23, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • W247

      Well that's an over generalized and judgmental statement. Good luck explaining that one when you get to heaven (apparently you think that you are on the same par as God since you are judging people).

      September 23, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • jrzydvl

      Pu the Kool Aid down and step away ormt he computer. You are making a fool of yourself

      September 23, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @W247

      I think Mike just understands that Republicans in general and Tea baggers in particular are sc_um.

      Cheers!

      September 23, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • Edwin

      A generalization, to be true, but there is a LOT of hate going around nowadays.

      If I understand correctly, many christians want to rewrite the Bible so it no longer describes Jesus as growing up poor. They argue that he was middle class, so the Bible should really say we need to help those who are worthy of help, not everyone.

      Other christians argue that since many of the poor are illegal aliens, they do not morally deserve help, even in God's eyes. I do not understand how that works - if someone violates a civil law (like speeding or entering the country illegally) does that mean their children are no longer worthy of charity? LOTS of christians argue very loudly that illegals - even children - should be denied necessities like food, emergency services, and education - because their parents were very bad people to come to our country in desperation.

      That does not sound like the christianity I learned about last century. Clearly the religion is evolving, but not into something wholesome.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • GinnyinNC

      Well, Mike... I think it's interesting that people always call republications closed-minded. Thanks for reminding me exactly why I need to vote for anyone but Obama in 2012. I am tired of hate-filled, bitter people – LIKE YOU – running this country.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  10. jrzydvl

    Line 5, “Fifty percent of all Americans do not pay taxes.” has context. No tjust any tax taxes, Income taxes. That is the issue. Why do you think repelacing Federal Income tax with a 9% flat tax raises more money ?

    September 23, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Edwin

      Even in your analysis there are lots of tricky details. What is "income" - if you earn $40,000,000 on stocks but don't sell them, is that income? What if you sell them but immediately buy other stocks with that money?

      What if you "convert" it into some other form of asset "for your company" - is it income?

      Remember: a hefty percentage of those who pay no taxes comes from people whose income is $1,000,000 a year or more. They use loopholes and definitions. And SOME of those "loopholes" are really necessary for the economy to actually function and not devolve into a black market scheme.

      Flat taxes ALWAYS fail as useful revenue generators, because they HAVE to have conditions, clauses, and exclusions. In my state we have a 5.5% sales tax on everything... but most things do not actually get taxed anyways, because of exclusions. The rest generates relatively little money, because people simply shop in nearby states for big money items.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  11. Jimmmy

    I notice one of the misconceptions is not "poor people have too many children" When are these dumazzes going to realize that kids are EXPENSIVE. Combine that with a complete lack of any job skills and what do you expect?

    September 23, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Robert

      The average size of a family receiving federal assistance was 2.1 in the middle of the last decade. That includes the adult. It's a myth that all or even most families on public assistance are a single mother with a large number of children.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Jackson

      Did you really just collectively refer to poor people as "dumbazzes?" Bravo on being both stupid and mean.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Gandolf

      While in the past having children correlated across all intellectual classes, today those having too many children, who are unable to pay for them, are more likely to have lower than average I.Q.'s. This trait will be passed on to their offspring who will also have too many children. Poor people who are smart care better for their children and tend to have less so they care for those they do have more adequately.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Frank

      I don't think Gandolf knows what 'correlated' means.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  12. Vulpes

    Flatten the tax base ... LOL ... the GOP are clueless

    September 23, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  13. noteabags

    I expected to see the myth that conservative like to spread: Poor people are that way because they are stupid and/or lazy. They don't want to work and would rather sit around smoking crack while us "hard-working, tax-paying, christians" support them.

    September 23, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Jimmmy

      They certainly are stupid when it comes to breeding.

      September 23, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Jim

      Most of them are stupid and lazy.

      September 23, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  14. Max in NY

    I am very much for the safety nets in place in this country...not everyone can control the situation they are put in when they are born (be it physically, values on education/hard work, family stability, etc...). BUT what can be controlled is people having kids when they simply cannot afford it. That HAS TO STOP.

    I have family members who work for planned parenthood...conraception is free for males, and in many cases free for females who cannot afford it and don't have insurance.

    September 23, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • noteabags

      Some "christians" are against birth control and abortion. What to do? Abstinence isn't working.

      September 23, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Bill C

      Really noteabags? So the solution to too many poor babies is to kill them? By that logic you not only support abortion but you also support infanticide. I mean heck, if mom loses her job while she is pregnant, just kill the kid. Great logic.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  15. ALL SOLUTIONS

    Just spending more money on the poor is not an answer. Anyone that thinks it is, is just plain stupid. Poverty in the United States should be reduced. It can be done; and done without spending billions of tax/government funds. Giving people in poverty more government benefits is not the answer. Changes in the economic structure of the United States are necessary to solve the problem and keep the country from moving from the current recession and into a depression.

    The answers are available.

    September 23, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Dave

      Hire American workers. Hire the unemployed. Hire the poor, give them good-paying jobs. Any answer besides those is bogus.

      September 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Lisa

      Please elaborate on the answers you reference.

      September 23, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  16. Doc Vestibule

    You can thank Reagan and his Trickle Down economics for the current state of the US economy.
    Make the super-duper rich even richer by cutting all of their taxes and then somehow, this will make the poor better off.
    Instead, the rich/poor gap has grown to incredible levels!
    Clinton tried to do away with it, but once the Right Wing let Dubya into the White House, back the country went to Trickle Down and hundreds of billions of dollars of surplus became deficit.

    September 23, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Spot on!

      September 23, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • GinnyinNC

      Oh, Doc... what a tired perspective. Why do you try doing some research? Simply by reading your post, I think it's safe to assume that you're called Doc for reasons other than a holding a PhD or medical degree.

      September 23, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  17. Paul

    Lots of comments from Tolls posing to be Republicans...I think the biggest misconception is: The U.S. (either party) is not compassionate to the poor. We spend and will continue to spend more than any other country to help the poor. The problem right now is twofold 1. the middle class (upper and lower) are squeezed too much to help any more than we already are 2. taking more from the "rich" (suprisingly fewer people than you might believe are actually "rich") will only hurt the middle class more. Let's focus on programs that work rather than 'spreading the wealth', more accountiblity from the government types, and start measuring success not on how much we spend, but by how many no longer need the help.

    September 23, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  18. Dyermoe

    I'm sure being poor sucks. That's why I went to college, so I wouldn't have to be poor. I didn't get any of that education for free either. I'm still paying for it, but it's money well spent.
    No one should ever get any charity for free. It encourages laziness. If you're poor and need food, you should have to pick up trash or something productive in exchange for food/money. At least then you'd be earning it, and also earning respect to boot.

    September 23, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • noteabags

      Hopefully you won't lose your job to an Indian who will do your job for much less $$. A college degree is not a job-guarantee today.

      September 23, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Lisa

      Minimum wage full time job at ~$14K/ year – have you tried to live on that, especially in a major city?

      September 23, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Bill C

      LIsa you point out, albeit probably not on purpose, one of the many reasons why a federal minimum wage is a bad idea. $14K a year may be plenty in rural Mississippi, while it is nothing in New York city. So why in the world do we have the federal government telling me what I must pay my employees?

      September 23, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  19. xeno

    I've always been happy to give to charities, be it time, money, or goods. It is privilege to do so. There are a lot of hard working people out there that, despite a lifetime of hard work, still cannot get ahead, let alone break even. Also, I never take for granted that our position of good fortune is lifelong. We work very hard for our money, we save as much as we can, and we do not buy frivolously. That said, I have on too many occasions seen people buy $30 of groceries with food stamps, then pay $60 cash for DVDs, video games, decorative items, stuff I wouldn't even waste my money on. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. There are so many individual problems to be solved–there is no one way to fix the problem of poverty in this country. I'm sure there is no easy way to separate out those that abuse the system and those that really need it to survive, but it would go a long way in improving the image of these programs.

    September 23, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Be privledged to send me a check?

      September 23, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  20. JiminTX

    Quit having kids you cannot properly raise, only to ask people like me to subsidize your lifestyle choices.

    September 23, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Jimmmy

      Ding Ding Ding, we have a winner. Now if only the libtards and other enablers would realize it

      September 23, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Megan

      Thank you.

      September 23, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.