So, that’s it.
Poverty in the United States is finally history.
At least that’s what the Trump administration boasted last week.
“Based on historical standards of material wellbeing [sic] and the terms of engagement, our War on Poverty is largely over and a success.”
To what do we attribute its eradication?
Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), aka food stamps, of course.
This is quite a shift away from the decades-old rhetoric about social welfare programs causing poverty, preventing the poor from lifting themselves into new tax brackets.
Whatever happened to former President Reagan’s aphorism, “The Federal government declared war on poverty, and poverty won”?
House Speaker Paul Ryan said in 2013:
“When I look at the money spent, when I look at the programs created, when I look at the miserable outcomes and the high poverty rates, as a policy maker, [I say] ‘We can do better than this and we need to figure out how.’”
But tell that to your neighbor who is out of work because the company that laid him off shipped operations to Indonesia where it can pay workers pennies on the dollar.
Tell it to the homeless man or woman still panhandling under Interstate 84.
Tell it to the single mother working three minimum-wage jobs risking being fired because she can’t afford car repairs.
Tell it to the parents who can’t afford to take any more days off work to care for their sick children.
Tell it to the restaurant server trying to pay off a home mortgage-worth in student loans.
Tell it to the senior citizen who has to choose between keeping the electricity on and refilling prescriptions.
The Census Bureau reports 40.6 million Americans–12.7 percent–lived below the official poverty line ($25,100 for a family of four) in 2016. According to the Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, 14.5 percent of Americans were impoverished that year.
Two days before the Council of Economic Advisers released its report, Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote in an op-ed in The Guardian:
“Despite the fact that the unemployment rate in the US is relatively low, real inflation accounted for, wages for the average American worker continue to decline and 140 million Americans lack the resources to pay for housing, food, childcare, healthcare, transportation and a cellphone without going into debt.”
He goes on to inquire:
“How does it happen that there are major corporations in America where CEOs receive extravagant compensation packages, who pay their workers wages so low that many of them are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid and public housing – subsidized by taxpayers – to survive?”
Sanders then goes on to break down what average employees working for five of the most profitable corporations in America today face compared to what corporate CEOs make.
“While Amazon paid no federal income taxes last year, it has been reported that one out of three Amazon workers in Arizona and 2,400 of its workers in Pennsylvania and Ohio rely on food stamps to feed their families.
“Almost three-quarters of Disneyland workers say they don’t earn enough money to cover basic expenses every month, more than two-thirds are food insecure and more than one out of 10 report having been homeless over the last two years.
“The average cashier at McDonald’s would have to work over 895 years to make what the company’s CEO, Steve Easterbrook, earns in one year. while McDonald’s had enough money to reward its wealthy shareholders with $7.7 billion in stock buybacks and dividends, it reneged on a commitment it made to its low-wage workers to pay them at least $1 an hour above the local minimum wage.
“US taxpayers are subsidizing Walmart’s low wages to the tune of at least $6.2 billion each and every year. That makes the Walton family of Walmart, the wealthiest family in America, the largest welfare recipient in the country.
“Many of [American Airlines] ticket agents at Envoy Air make as little as $9.48 an hour, forcing many of them to rely on taxpayer assistance to make ends meet.”
After spending 10 days touring California, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, and Washington DC in December, the United Nations (UN)’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston, concluded:
“The United States is one of the world’s richest and most powerful and technologically innovative countries; but neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology is being harnessed to address the situation in which spent 40 million people continue to live in poverty.”
According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the top one percent’s incomes increased faster than the those of the bottom 99 percent in 43 states and the District of Columbia between the years 2009 to 2015.
New York, Florida, and Connecticut are the most unequal–the top one percent earned average incomes more than 35 times the incomes of the bottom 99 percent.
As some gain economic advantage over others, civilization tends to drift closer toward inequality.
Coupled with researchers’ prior knowledge about how inequality leads to social instability, the study points to some disturbing trends in the United States today.
“We could be concerned in the United States, that if Ginis get too high, we could be inviting revolution, or we could be inviting state collapse. There’s only a few things that are going to decrease our Ginis dramatically.”
Among inequality’s myriad effects on a society are social unrest, a decrease in health, increased violence, and decreased solidarity.
Dr. Kohler indicates humans have unfortunately never been good at peacefully mitigating these factors.
Historically, the only effective mitigation strategies have been plague, war, and/or revolution.
Once again, the Trump White House is trying to tell us everything in America is fine, everything before Trump came along was screwed up, but he’s fixing it, and anything to the contrary is “fake news.”
Don’t fall for the “okey-doke.”
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