an award-winning Washington correspondent has a recent article entitled "U.S. poor left out in the cold". Part of his article involves interviews with people at the Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte North Carolina. The Center provides food and help for the poor and homeless. Charlotte is where the Democratic Convention is being held.
Every day around noon several hundred people line up to receive a bowl of soup together with a sandwich. Liz Peralta who manages development for the Urban Ministry Shelter and seeks out funding said:
"Eight-five to 90 per cent of the people we see are considered situationally homeless...They are homeless and this may be the only time in their lives that they will be homeless. They’ve suffered a job loss, an illness in the family or a divorce. Some episode in their life has knocked them from the precipice of being really poor but housed to being really poor but homeless."
The statistics on poverty in the U.S. are dismal.
In 2010 the U.S. Census Bureau listed 46 million Americans as living in poverty. This figure includes 22% of all children, 10% of the elderly, and 27% of African-Americans. Given figures such as this one would think that poverty would be almost on top of the U.S. political agenda. However it is not.
Back on January 8, 1964
President Lyndon Johnson in his state of the union address proposed legislation that was part of what was unofficially called the The War on Poverty. The United States Congress passed the Economic Opportunity Act, which established the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) to administer the local application of federal funds targeted against poverty.
The War was never won. Not only was it not won but a constant refrain of subsequent politicians was often welfare reform. In 1996 the War on Poverty became a War on Welfare. This war had its own legislation with a much more upbeat terminology than the War on Poverty. As the Wikipedia
entry puts it
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) is a United States federal law considered to be a fundamental shift in both the method and goal of federal cash assistance to the poor. The bill added a workforce development component to welfare legislation, encouraging employment among the poor.
The legislation was bi-partisan. The bill was introduced by a Republican but signed into law by then president Bill Clinton. While the bill had the laudable aim of breaking dependence of people upon the welfare system, when there are few jobs or the poor are in situations where they just cannot work they may lose benefits or find them more difficult to obtain. As Bill Clinton said at the time his bill ended welfare as it had been known up to that time. However the result has not been to boost the poor out of poverty but to give the U.S. one of the highest rates of poverty in the developed world. Yet Obama f
ocuses on the middle class saying in a recent interview::
"The policies I’m offering are ones that have been proven in the past to help middle class families."
has been explicit in indicating his lack of concern for the poor:"I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there."
The rate of poverty in the U.S. now is greater than it was in 1967 at the height of the War on Poverty. The U.S. author, journalist, and radio host Earl Hutchinson
suggests that a prime reason that programs for the poor are not a big campaign issue is that the poor do not come out to vote."Poverty is not an issue with elected officials from the White House on down, because one, there’s no votes there, two, poor people do not have defined organisations that can go to bat for them, and the bigger thing is that America is in constant denial including politicians that we really have a problem with poverty in this country." I might add that they do not have any Super-PACs
on their side either.
Hutchinson notes that many Americans see poverty as a personal failure rather than being caused by economic and social forces. The system triumphs in that as long as this belief continues the system is safe from confrontation by groups who share a view that it is systemic features that contribute to their condition. The poor are at best objects of charity at worst pariahs to be avoided.
There is no war on poverty any longer. There is however a very expensive war on terror. To pay for this and much else there will soon be a War on the Deficit and that will mean cuts to the social safety net.