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Monday, June 22, 2015

Meet the Poor of 2015 -- Alone and Forgotten

"I-me-me mine, I-me-me mine,
I-me-me mine, I-me-me mine.

"All I can hear I-me-mine, I-me-mine, I-me-mine,
Even those tears I-me-mine, I-me-mine, I-me-mine,
No one's frightened of playing it,
Everyone's saying it,
Flowing more freely than wine,
All through the day I-me-mine."

From "I Me Mine" by the Beatles 

Taking all you can get... and even a little more at the expense of others less fortunate... seems to be the overpowering desire of so many. The gap between those who "have" and those who "have not" is increasingly widening. I believe the love of money causes greed that leaves little concern for a large segment of American society who struggle just to survive.

In an editorial titled "The Invisible Poor" (2000), James Fallows wrote the following:

"The way a rich nation thinks about its poor will always be convoluted. The richer people become in general, the easier it theoretically becomes for them to share with people who are left out. But the richer people become, the less they naturally stay in touch with the realities of life on the bottom, and the more they naturally prefer to be excited about their own prospects rather than concerned about someone else's."

(James Fallows. "The Invisible Poor." The New York Times. March 19, 2000)

Fallows saw a social and imaginative separation between the rich and the poor. He continued ...

"This is not the embattled distance of the 'Bonfire of the Vanities' period, with its gated communities and atmosphere of urban armed camps. It's more like simple invisibility, because of increasing geographic, occupational and social barriers that block one group from the other's view.

"Prosperous America does not seem hostile to the poor, and often responds generously when reminded. But our poor are like people in Madagascar. We feel bad for them, but they live someplace else."

By standard measures of real income and wages, the poorest and least educated Americans have experienced a falling standard of living since 1975. Rising inequality in family incomes reflects rising inequality in wages, the most important source of income for most Americans. Wage inequality has increased dramatically for both men and women. Although many compelling moral arguments for reducing economic inequality exist, richer Americans seem to have a high tolerance for economic inequality and often prefer to blame the poor for all of their ills.

(William A. Sundstrom. "The Income Gap." Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
Santa Clara University)

According to a new study, the wealth gap between the top 1% and the bottom 99% in the U.S. is as wide as it's been in nearly 100 years. Between 1993 and 2012, the real incomes of the 1% grew 86.1%, while those of the 99% grew 6.6%, according to the research based on Internal Revenue Service statistics examined by economists at UC Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics and Oxford University.

From 2009 to 2012, as the U.S. economy improved, incomes of the top 1% grew more than 31%, while the incomes of the 99% grew 0.4% - less than half a percentage point. Economist Emmanuel Saez of UC Berkeley reports, "This implies that the top 1% incomes captured just over two-thirds of the overall economic growth of real incomes per family over the period 1993-2012."

(Connie Stewart. "Income gap between rich and poor is biggest in a century."
Los Angeles Times. September 11, 2013)

A famous quote from Voltaire still holds true: “The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.”
It is imperative not to forget that the poor are still a very important component of today’s society. As consumers and workers, they comprise a segment of the population that provides obvious economic and social benefits for all. Yet, for all practical purposes, they are a neglected minority. Politicians rave about the importance of helping the middle class while any mention of the poor has become a “dirty word” in American politics.

A basic tenet of sociological practice is that to solve a social problem, people must begin by seeing it as social. If a society is set in its beliefs that poverty is caused by failures of individual initiative and effort, and people are poor because "there’s something lacking in them," then, in the eyes of other classes, the poor have no right to complain about their condition. Yet, who can deny the inequality in how the system and all its advancements are organized? Who can deny the poor are oppressed?

A primary characteristic of the class system is social mobility. In other words an individual can move up, or down, the class structure. In fact, now, more than ever, the underclass lives in areas with high concentrations of poverty and fewer opportunities to improve their lives.

Dr. D. Stanley Eitzen, professor emeritus in sociology from Colorado State University, argues that the so-called "new-poor" are much more trapped by poverty than the poor in previous generations mainly because there is little need for hard physical labor. Eitzen says ...

"The new poor are the poor who are displaced by new technologies or whose jobs have moved away to the suburbs, to other regions of the country, or out of the country. The new poor have little hope of breaking out of poverty."

(D. Stanley Eitzen and Maxine Baca-Zinn. Social Problems. 2003)

Oh, there are government anti-poverty programs which are basically in place to "help poor individuals" but they do nothing to change the social system that dooms so many to poverty. Novelist and sociologist Allan G. Johnson puts it this way ...

"The easiest way to see this is to look at the antipoverty programs themselves. They come in two main varieties. The first holds individuals responsible by assuming that financial success is solely a matter of individual qualifications and behavior. In other words, if you just run faster, you’ll finish the race ahead of people who are currently beating you, and then they’ll be poor instead of you. We get people to run faster by providing training and motivation. What we don’t do, however, is look at the rules of the race or question whether the basic necessities of life should be distributed through competition.

"The result is that some people rise out of poverty by improving their competitive advantage, while others sink into it when their advantages no longer work and they get laid off or their company relocates to another country or gets swallowed up in a merger that boosts the stock price for shareholders and earns the CEO a salary that in 2005 averaged more than 262 times the average worker’s pay. But nothing is even said – much less done – about an economic system that allows a small elite to own and control most of the wealth and sets up the rest of the population to compete over what’s left."

(Allan G. Johnson. The Forest and the Trees. 2013)

It has been nearly half a century since President Lyndon Johnson declared "war on poverty." That initiative produced great successes, and many of its programs have been very effective -- the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps); Head Start; Medicaid; the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program; school breakfast programs; and federal aid for poor schools and students.

Dan Glickman, US Secretary of Agriculture from 1995 until 2001 and now a Senior Fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, says ...

"After years of erosion of wages and benefits, the U.S. poverty rate has risen and approaches a 50-year high. Yet poverty has become an almost invisible issue for policymakers and the press. It feels today like a "war on poverty" would need to begin with a battle just to gain recognition that poverty even exists."

(Dan Glickman. "America's Invisible Poor." U.S. News & World Report. May 01, 2013)

Meet the Poor of 2015

A 2012 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed alarming child poverty rates in the United States, particularly when compared to other developed nations. For example, the United States ranks second highest among all measured countries with 23.1 percent of children living in poverty, just under Romania, with 25.6 percent.

Allow Dr. César Chelala, an international public health consultant, to introduce the neglected and struggling poor of our nation:

"Today, four out of five adults in the United States struggle to find jobs, are near poverty, or rely on welfare for at least part of their lives, and there is fear that the situation is going to get worse, at least for those in the lower echelons of the economic scale.

"The number of America’s poor remains at a record 46.2 million, or approximately 15 percent of the population, due in part to still-high unemployment levels. Despite their high numbers, they are sometimes called 'the invisible poor' since they tend to live in small rural towns in America’s heartland, far away from politicians and government officials to see, or 'feel their pain.'

"According to the Agricultural and Development Economics Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 'food security' refers to the availability of food and a person’s access to it. A household is considered food-secure when its occupants do not live in hunger or fear of starvation. Based on this criterion, 50.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households (33.5 million adults and 16.7 million children.)

"'Economic insecurity' has been defined as a year or more of periodic lack of jobs, reliance on government assistance such as food stamps, or income below 150 percent of the poverty line. If current trends continue, by 2030, close to 85 percent of all working-class adults in the United States will experience bouts of economic insecurity, according to Mark Rank, a professor of social welfare at Washington University in St. Louis. In 2011, 4.8 million seniors (over age 60) were food insecure.

"Poverty affects individuals’ access to quality education and quality health care. Low-income communities cannot afford the same quality of education as high-income communities. Females in poverty are more likely to become pregnant at younger ages, and have fewer resources to care for their children. Many among them end up dropping out of school.

"The significant proportion of children living in food insecure households makes them more prone to have nutritional and other associated health problems. Poor children have higher infant mortality rates, more frequent and severe chronic diseases such as respiratory infections, less access to quality health care, lower immunization rates, and increased obesity and its complications."

(Dr. César Chelala. America’s Neglected Poor. Epoch Times. September 4, 2013)

Despite the railing about welfare and the apparent stigma that exists toward the poor, America is full of hard-working Americans whose jobs pay less than a living wage and whose existence provides them little dignity with few offers of paths for advancement.

Meanwhile, the rich do not depend upon a spirit of cooperation and equity to ensure happiness in their lives -- their fortunes are not fixed to the success of a cooperative society. The rich do not worry about crime next door, affordable accessible health care, job security, educational opportunities, or food on the table and gas in the tank. Instead, they worry about acquiring a bigger share for themselves.

I think the rich have placed themselves as a group politically and socially "more than equal" than others in our society. Power of command over others is something they use, not to cooperate with the poor, but to enjoy and insure their independence from the less-fortunate. Hardly mixing with ordinary people except those who serve them, they have no idea what being poor in America is about. And, all indications are that this ignorance will increase over time as the invisible poor are blamed for their own conditions.

"We must make our choice. We may have democracy,
or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few,
but we can't have both."  

--Justice Louis Brandeis
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