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article imageOp-Ed: US poverty- Whoever wins the mid-terms, the nation is losing

By Paul Wallis     Sep 17, 2010 in Crime
In 2009, 43.6 million Americans lived on $5,500 a year. That’s $15 a day. Yes, times are tough, and they haven’t been this tough for a long time. The number of people out of work for more than six months has never been this high, near 50 per cent.
There’s been some spinning of numbers. The poverty rate has historically been higher, but the actual number of people is now much higher. The middle class has apparently been going backwards. Even the more articulate news sources like TIME Magazine and The Washington Post are struggling to find words.
The politics are predictable. The Obama administration is saying that things would have been worse without the Recovery Program. The Republicans say the programs haven’t done enough, or aren’t working.
To explain the statistics:
1. The figures reflect the flow on effects of the original massive layoffs during the crash. They mean that jobs haven’t returned on anything like the scale required to fire up a domestic recovery.
2. This in turn means that capital is staying out of employment, which has had the effect of aggravating the economic snail’s pace of the recovery. The lower employment rates affect domestic spending, which carries over to service and consumer industries. $15 a day doesn’t go too far.
3. The South and south west are taking the worst of the poverty hits. Mississippi, Georgia and Arkansas are particularly badly affected. Even Texas hasn’t been spared, with higher than the national average poverty rate. AP has a map of the comparative poverty levels in the US according to the census.
4. The over 65s have also been written out of the figures as a result of pension increases. The cutoff point for “official” poverty is $21,954 per year. The problem with that approach is that $21,955 isn’t a whole lot richer. A more realistic figure would be a bandwidth below $30,000.
5. The median household income is $50,000. If that figure sounds a bit too close to $21,954, it is. Two income families, deprived of one of those incomes, are in real trouble. There have been repeated incidences of families effectively being caught without enough income to cover expenses.
These figures are arguably the first hard data which has been available to really assess the full effects of the crash. They present major practical issues for policy makers with a damaged, cash-starved revenue system and a shaky economic performance providing little or no support for spending.
It doesn’t matter who wins what in the mid-term elections. The nation is losing. Whatever pitiful ideological views are expressed, the poverty of political rhetoric is as bad as the physical poverty.
So far there are no big ideas, no big visions, and above all, no jobs. There are no great national projects.
To give some idea of the intellectual and moral barrenness of US politics:
· 95,000 houses were repossessed last month, the highest ever.
· 51 million Americans don’t have health insurance, and won’t, until 2014.
· 1 in 5 children lives in poverty.
Anyone remember these subjects getting top priority headlines? Has anyone been overwhelmed by the obvious concern for the well being of the poor on the part of political commentators? Charities have been filling in the gaps between non-existent incomes and non-existent jobs. These have been political non-topics until now. The situation wasn't exactly a secret for the last few years. The political talk has been about keeping tax breaks for billionaires which amount to a lot more than $5,500 per year.
43.6 million people are not about to get jobs or any other sort of income on that basis.
The US pioneered the modern way of life the world knows. It was the country which created and spread the technology which changed the world. It was the country that fought a World War to free millions of people. It was the country which first went into space.
Now look at it.
Any questions you think need answering?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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