Like climate change, few dare deny the obvious anymore: in America the rich are indeed getting richer while the rest, well, are not. 15 percent of the population is now officially considered poor. That's 46 million Americans existing at or below the poverty line! Safety net programs can be thanked for keeping millions more off of these rolls...for now. In fact, according to data put out by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, an additional 20 million people would be counted were it not for Social Security. What is less agreed on are the reasons for the escalating downturn. Why are the poor getting poorer? Without that consensus, how to eradicate poverty becomes just another endless debate. And the ranks of the poor in America keep on growing.
In an opinion piece "Poverty in America: Why Can't We End it?” for The New York Times last year, Georgetown University Professor of Law and author Peter Edelman gave four reasons the war on poverty rages on:
*low paying jobs
*single parent households
*states reducing/ending cash assistance benefits to needy families
*ongoing race and gender issues
A steep decline in Union membership – down now to 1916 numbers of 11.3% - must be noted as well. Unions protect wages and grow the economy. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans as a 'right to work.' It provides no 'rights' and no 'works.' Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining.”
Using income statistics collected by the US Census, the National Educational Association found right to Work (RTW) states had a lower standard of living than their worker-friendly counterparts. In fact, eleven of the fifteen poorest states in America are RTW states. Nine of the eleven states with the lowest poverty rates are considered worker-friendly.
Having a job and working hard is no longer all it takes to make it in America. Low wages coupled with a lack of affordable housing delivers a one-two punch that can leave the financially stressed reeling. Current Federal Minimum Wage is set at $7.25 per hour. The National Low Income Housing Coalition has determined you would have to earn a 'housing wage' of $15.37 per hour in order to afford a two bedroom apartment at an average fair-market rent.
It can and does happen to anyone. People just like you, just like your neighbors, are slipping below the poverty line every day.
*Every year 3.5 million people in the United States find out what it means to be homeless.
*35% of them are families with children.
*23% served our country in the military.
The key to winning the battle and the war against poverty is empathy. It is incumbent on the middle class to align themselves with those losing the economic struggle if the status quo is to end. In a world where a CEO's take-home income is 350 times that of their average worker (Confessions of a class warrior, Robert Reich, 8/12/2010) the 1% standing of the very rich blinds them to the harsh realities of being poor. That ignorance can only get in the way of meaningful change. A “There but for the grace of God go I...” attitude is what is needed to stop this downward spiral.