Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Predicament of Impoverishment in America

In 1968, CBS aired a documentary called Hunger in America. It awakened many Americans to the fact that a very large number of their fellows citizens were underfed and malnourished. 

This led to significant legislative initiatives aimed at combating poverty and hunger in America during the late 1960s and 1970s.

Then, in 1976, came this ditty: "She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran's benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000."

The 'she' is the infamous 'welfare queen' and the person making the lumpen remark would become president of the United States in 1980.

Words matter. And the remark marked a significant turning point in American attitudes toward their fellow citizens receiving financial and/or food assistance from the government.

This is the way things bounce in American politics and American peoples' opinions.  It's a democracy; things should bounce and change.

In the meantime, though, the problem of poverty and hunger in America got worse: The percentage of Americans living in poverty, in real terms (adjusted for inflation) has increased from around 11% in the 1970s  to 15% now. That's a lot of people. This took place while at the same time our national income per person is now more than twice as high as it was in 1970.

So what's up? (And down?)

A couple of things: one, there's a recognition, based on statistics, that many of the 'anti-poverty' programs of the 1970s did work to reduce poverty and hunger. And two, our attempts to deconstruct these programs in the name of improving them has failed -- failed to reduce hunger and poverty, which is the only yardstick I'm interested in here. (If it makes you feel better knowing that government cuts increased the number of your fellow Americans living in poverty and going hungry,  well that's another gauge for someone else to measure -- perhaps your shrink or pastor.)

The point is, we already know how to reduce poverty and hunger in this country because we've done it. (Was it perfect -- yeah right, tell me what is?) But instead of learning from those programs how to make them better, we've taken a step back and made things worse.

Like I said in the middle of this essay, we are a democracy, and democracy's bounce.

So let' s bounce. 

Please read and consider signing the petition below that seeks to protect housing  assistance from budget cuts: http://signon.org/sign/exempt-housing-assistance


No comments:

Post a Comment