Have you really been paying attention? I don’t mean attention to the commentaries or pseudo-scientific reports funded by political, private or vested interests. If you have, the following will not be surprising. If you have relied on a limited perspective for information, you might appreciate some authentic facts. The U.S. Census Bureau reported:
• In 2000, 31 million people lived below the poverty line — 11.3 percent of the U.S. population.
• In 2010, the population grew to 46 million — 15 percent of our population.
• In 2010 alone, we saw record wealth increase for the nation, but 2.6 million were added to poverty rolls.
• Using the more accurate supplemental poverty measure that included government supplements, the rate rose to 16.1 percent of our population in 2010.
• In 2011, another 600,000 dropped into poverty.
Who are these people who swell the ranks of poordom? The 50 million poor, now so-designated because they earn less than $11,000 ($23,000 for a family of four), are followed closely by another 51 million designated as “near poor,” who earn less than $17,000. More than half of the “near poor” landed there from higher-paying jobs that no longer need them. This means more than one-third of us are in or nearing poverty because of medical or other fiscal reversals. The number of our poor encompasses 18.1 percent of our children and 15.5 percent of our working adults. More than one-third of our working-age population is no longer in the job market; only 58.6 percent are now employed. More than 20 percent of American families reported not a single family member had a job last year.
It is with a sense of frustrated outrage that I read or hear of political, or even private, denigration of the poor in our society. Like many other citizens who are swayed by personal morality to heed the dictum to help “the least among us,” I give of time and treasure to help alleviate the savagery of poverty on both local and national levels. I ask myself, “How can arrogant, selfish, privileged citizens fail to recognize their debt to society and even petition for ever-increasing personal wealth?”
More importantly, perhaps, is the path to destruction down which competing powers such as political, economic, institutional, etc., are leading our country. Selfish interest focused on the “bottom line” is not a value that can lead to a bright future for nations. It has been demonstrated historically, and is common sense now, to realize the need to nurture the roots of a nation as well as its fruits. There are many examples of public leadership that poison the well of public judgment. Consider the following examples taken from public media:
• In Texas, the legislature considered having every recipient of unemployment or welfare payments pass a drug test.
•Republican leaders Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, among others, complained the poor didn’t pay income tax. (When there’s insufficient income, what’s to tax?)
• A South Carolina official suggested feeding the poor was futile because, like feeding stray animals, they just kept breeding.
• The Wall Street Journal touted a rising economy but also deplored a rise in food stamps applications. (I wonder where the benefits went.)
• Paul Ryan’s House-approved budget called for $125 billion cut over the next five years, affecting 13 million people, half of whom are children.
•Legislation limiting services to the elderly, medical care to the public, veteran benefits for tuition, health care and housing have been suggested.
This is by no means a comprehensive summary of such leadership sentiments, but watch what goes on both locally and nationally. This is our country, and it should be reflecting our general attitudes and values. Worship of the “bottom line” has led us far afield from our basic American values. Historically, such concentration of power leads to tyranny. Read the words of the fathers of our constitution and appreciate their eternal wisdom on this subject.