Let me begin by apologizing for the recent lack of substance around here. Between classwork and increasing frustration with both political parties, it’s been hard to get inspired.
So, poverty is up again this year. It’s almost un-news this time. Reuters calls it “the latest sign that an economic recovery marked by a stock market boom has not trickled down to ordinary Americans.” Not just the sign or a sign: the latest sign. And gee, surprise surprise, keeping the interest rate that banks can charge one another low doesn’t seem to help Joe Average pay his bills! Imagine that! Here’s some facts for you:
Numbers released this week by the Census Department show exactly how pervasive poverty is in the U.S. To be defined as poor by the government, a single person can earn no more than $11,490 per year, while for a family of four the threshold is $23,550. About 46.5 million Americans, or 1 in 7, lived at or below that level last year. Extend the definition just slightly to 125 percent of the poverty level — $14,362 for one person and $29,437 for a family of four — and the ratio drops to 1 in 5, fully 20 percent of the population.
Almost 42 percent of U.S. households below the poverty line are headed by single women, that’s up from 28 percent in 2007. Many of the people who live close to or below the poverty line have jobs: More than 30 percent of working-age adults earning 125 percent of the poverty line or less worked year-round in 2012, according to the Census Bureau. Roughly a quarter of the officially impoverished worked part-time, while 5.5 percent worked full-time. Nearly 9 percent of those working part-time earned less than half of the poverty level.
So no, we aren’t talking about lazy slobs who don’t want to work. We’re talking about 1 out of every 7 people you’re likely to encounter on the street, more if you know people of color. Even if you live in some “nice” suburb somewhere. And for those people, advice like “Max your 401k contribution” or “have savings of at least three months of living expenses” are sick jokes. How do you save that kind of money when you aren’t even sure you’ll cover the rent on the first of the month?
The Japan Times recently published a commentary titled “Politicians hardly ever mention America’s poor.” Now think about that a moment. The Japanese know we have a poverty problem. This isn’t an article about poverty in Bolivia or India, but America and it’s poor. And our politicians are too busy to talk about them. That’s actually probably for the best, seeing as their challenges are often misunderstood, the solutions are sometimes tangential, and Washington appears to be doing their very best to push them [further] under the bus.
And that brings me to food stamps — or as it is officially known, the SNAP program. As we all remember, the House voted to cut $4,000,000,000 ($4 billion with a b, or $4000 million if you’d like to think about how big that is) from SNAP, while the Senate only wants to cut $400,000,000 ($400 M). Mighty nice of them Senators. The House also wants to let states impose work requirements despite the fact that many of the poor have jobs (and many more are disabled) and drug testing (proven to be a waste of money, but it does serve the primary purpose of humiliating the person in poverty further). It’s hard enough to feed yourself on SNAP, but the politicians who never mention the poor directly want to make it harder.
I guess none of them paid much attention to the plot of last year’s critically acclaimed movie, Les Misérables. Desperate people do desperate things.
I’m not a Catholic by any stretch of the imagination, but I do believe Pope Francis speaks words Jesus would have approved of when he said “We want a just [economic] system that helps everyone.”
In Closing: I like “will cost much less than expected”; perspective; I bet more of us use math regularly than play football regularly; “The Tithe” is worth reading, here’s part one; maybe the start of a someday HIV cure?; and may you never have to choose which bills go unpaid.