Archived Story

War on poor attack on U.S.

Published 9:27am Friday, November 1, 2013

It is not lacking in irony for the latest attacks on the most vulnerable in our society to be taking place when the income disparity between the wealthiest Americans and the poorest Americans is at its highest point in nearly 100 years.

Further, achieving The American Dream of rising to wealth through hard work, measured by both the Gini coefficient and the Palma ratio, reflect that the US is at the bottom of developed nations in providing that opportunity.

The Palma ratio places the US at 44 of 86 nations compared, one slot beneath Nigeria and barely above Russia. Achieving the American Dream today is more likely in 43 countries other than America.

Since 1979 the share of total income earned by the bottom 90 percent of Americans has decreased by 14 percent with the top 10 percent, and mostly the top 1 percent, gaining that percentage of total income according to The Economic Policy Institute. As of 2010 the top 10 percent of Americans earn 48 percent of total income.

And yet the attacks upon the poor continue as food stamp programs are slated for cuts beyond those taking place this month by Republicans in congress, and the debate about reductions in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid continues.

A recent survey by the Salvation Army found 27 percent of Americans think the poor are simply lazy. In the same survey 43 percent thought the poor could always find a job if they really wanted to work. 49 percent believe that all that is needed to escape poverty is a good work ethic.

The Salvation Army poll found 30 percent of respondents believing that poor people have lower moral standards than more affluent Americans.

In short, a significant percentage of Americans both blame the poor for their poverty and portray poverty in America as almost luxurious in practice; a world of fee cell phones, rich eating and fancy cars.

The facts are very different.

Consider the example of Medicaid, medical services for the poor. Half of the people on Medicaid are children. An additional 25 percent are disabled or elderly (most nursing home care is paid through Medicaid). Of the remaining 25 percent on Medicaid many are working but do not earn enough to be disqualified from support.

Others are only receiving benefits for short periods of time while they transition though hardship and back into the jobs market.

Medicaid helps people who need support; it does not offer a cushion for those who are simply lazy.

As for food stamps, you can be able to work two fulltime jobs as McDonalds suggests their employees do and, if you have kids, still not earn enough to feed your family. The average age of a fast food worker today is 29, so many do indeed work and still need assistance.

The food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, reports four out of every ten families on the program have at least one adult in their homes working full or part time. There are work rules for the able-bodied that you must either work or be actively looking for work.

While it is popular on the American political Right to rail against the social safety net, attacking the poor for their poverty, the truth is the stereotypes generated to support these false claims are dishonest.

To harm the weakest among us, to take food needed by American children, is reprehensible and indefensible. There should be and can be no shelter for the dishonesty of these attacks.

The nation has great wealth, more than any other nation at any time in human history. To consider that we would or should let the hungry go hungry, or the homeless go without shelter, or the elderly do without medical care is not political policy, it is an unethical attack on American compassion.

We must protect Social Security, expand Medicaid under the ACA, and insure that Medicare continues to offer our seniors access to health care.

We can do no less.


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.

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