Let me begin by sharing with you the story of an inner-city Cleveland family of seven, two adults and five children all under the age of 11.

The family did not own a home. They were renters. As the family grew, it became ever more difficult to find rent. At one point the old car in which they roamed the city in search of rent became their living quarters. Evenings, the father and mother and a newborn slept in the car’s front seat, and the four other children, in the back.

They found rent by understating the number of children, which, when discovered, led to eviction and the same cycle of wandering as urban nomads. The father, a truck driver, had a war-related injury that occasionally required medical treatment, taking him out of work. Bills piled up, which led to garnishments. The mother suffered from post-partum depression, compounded by noisy, rambunctious children.

The children were sometimes out of school, as the family did not know where its next shelter or its next meal would come from.

This inner-city family lived in 21 different places in 17 years, including a couple of cars.

When we gather today to speak of poverty and inequality, I understand, because I was the oldest child in that inner-city family, which grew to nine persons, a family that was riveted to a day-to-day struggle to survive.

Ours was an intense experience of poverty and inequality that led to social disorganization, chronic instability that made daunting every encounter with every institution in a society, instability that created severe emotional difficulties in four of the seven children. Poverty and its partner chaos can play on people’s minds.

One of my most powerful memories was of listening to the sound of my parents’ counting pennies to pay utility bills. “Click, click, click,” I could hear the pennies drop, one by one, as they hit the metal top table.

Today I can hear those pennies dropping all over America for families not able to scrape together the cash to pay their bills, families who lack adequate housing, families who do not have adequate health care, families trying to raise children in a chaotic urban environment, families who truly do not know where their next meal will come.

In America today there are tens of millions of people with a hard-luck story. Tens of millions out of work, in ill health, in search of affordable rent, having neither a place nor a home to call their own; millions of people for whom, as Langston Hughes put it, life “ain’t been no crystal stair.”

No one who escapes such an environment physically or economically does it alone. There are teachers, coaches, doctors, lawyers, aunts, uncles, neighbors who appear as angels in our lives, who catch us when we are about to fall, who lift us up at the right moment, who show us a different path, who guide us in a new direction, who transport us to new possibilities, new futures.

But for every person upon whom fortune smiles, opportunity calls, and destiny stirs, there are many others for whom the future is obscured, for whom society is harsh, punitive, and unwelcoming.

I call these people my brothers and sisters, my cousins, my kinfolk who are ill-fed, ill-clothed, lacking in basic health care, working (if able) for low wages, hostages to debt, owning little, credit starved, renting if they can, and estranged from even rudimentary knowledge of wealth creation.

Poverty is not an abstraction. People wear it on their faces, carry it on their backs as a constant companion, and it is heavy.

Those of us acquainted with that condition often lack understanding of the nature of the material world, and, since access to material wealth seems random, are prey to the notion about wealth preached ironically by the Pardoner in The Canterbury Tales, “Radix malorum est cupiditas,” ‘The love of money is the root of all evil.”

One does not need to have taken a vow of poverty to be poor, one needs only the unconscious or conscious acceptance of the underlying precepts of a class-based society, the meek acceptance of a doctrine of predestination, the assumption of one’s status as merited and the acceptance of a political economy that equates one’s personal wealth with one’s innate value as a human being, while the so-called invisible hand of the marketplace quietly dips into the public till, and “moral hazard” is a polite term for theft.

All are created equal, indeed, but all do not have the same access to privilege, nor the same friends inside the government or financial centers of power, nor the same accountants.

Our reality is socially constructed and culturally affirmed. We have come to accept a system of things as inevitable without challenging the assumptions upon which a system is based.

Where does money come from? How is it made?

Before answering that question, let me state the obvious: Our political economy is structured to create poverty and inequality.