A new report from the National Poverty Center (NPC) throws the disturbing trend of “extreme poverty” (as opposed to mere “deep poverty”) into stark relief: There are currently an astonishing 1.65 million American households (with 3.55 million children living in them) where each family member lives on less than $2 a day!
Mull that over for a moment. Half the country is near or below the poverty line already!
My parents operate a soup kitchen/food pantry out of their church and my mother has all kinds of sad stories about kids who will rip open packs of raisins and wolf them down like they’re feral and other kids who look like they’re dead behind their eyes. For many of the children who they see regularly, if it weren’t for subsidized school lunches and stops at more than one local church food pantry, they’d be starving. On the weekends, many of them probably do.
I should mention that this is in West Virginia, a state with super high, very persistent structural unemployment rates and a very, very frayed government social services network, one of the worst—and stingiest—in the nation. People think of West Virginia as being a backwards place, but you could choose instead to see it as a glimpse of a possible, even likely, future: Want to know what our increasingly predatory capitalist society will look like in another ten years? West Virginia looks like that NOW.
There are no jobs, the roads are full of potholes that can swallow a pick-up truck, the land has been raped by the coal companies’ mountaintop removal activities and your next door neighbor is all too happy to sell the fracking rights to his backyard to a multinational. Who cares what you think or if it fucks up your living situation? No one is going to turn away an offer that can see them turn into the next Jed Clampett. Who could blame them? I mean… get real.
West Virginia, rural Texas, the meth-head armies of the California desert, the vast tracts of uninhabited homes across the sun belt. There’s some ill shit brewing in this country.
Debra Watson writes at the World Socialist Website:
The report, published in Social Service Review, was authored by H. Luke Shaefer, University of Michigan, School of Social Work, and Kathryn Edin, Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government. Measuring extreme poverty uncovers a further income stratification among those below the official poverty level. The sharply rising income inequality in the US has created in its wake a new phenomenon: massive numbers of US families that live in daily conditions once relegated the poorest of the poor in the economically underdeveloped world.
It throws light on particular aspects of the growth in inequality in the US that have not been examined in reports from the Census Bureau and other sources that compare income for different quintiles of the population. Some recent research has developed a category called “deep poverty” or a yearly income below half the official poverty line. Both these methods of research have revealed drastically rising inequality and the growth of deep poverty in recent years.
The researchers used the figure of $2 a day per person, the United Nations measure of poverty in developing countries. The official poverty line for a family of three would equate to roughly $17 per person per day averaged over a year. Deep poverty, below half the poverty line, would equate to an average of approximately $8.50 per person per day.
At $2 per person per day, the extreme poverty category examined in this report finds a family with virtually nothing to live on, or roughly 13 percent of what is considered official poverty. Social science researchers have estimated that it requires an income twice the Census Bureau’s official poverty level to actually support a family.
Counting food stamp benefits, now called SNAP, as cash only reduces the number of extremely poor households with children by half. The current food assistance benefit for a family of three tops out at $526. Since it only is available to families with income below 130 percent of the official poverty level, receiving the benefit does not bring any family to a livable income. If counted as the equivalent of cash income, the assistance actually would barely move a family in extreme poverty to deep poverty.
In addition, the SNAP benefit itself is facing serious cuts and even outright elimination for many poor families. In November, a family of three will lose $29 a month when the SNAP per person benefit allotment is cut as the federal government eliminates stimulus measures instituted in the immediate aftermath of recession. Five million people will be entirely cut off from SNAP benefits if limits in eligibility are imposed under plans to cut the program that emerged during discussion of the new Farm Bill this summer.
When Bill Clinton—no fan of welfare—was in office there were an average of 25.5 SNAP million recipients each month, but by the end of 2012, it was nearly twice that, at 47.5 million people.
The minimum wage is basically a slave wage, and everyone knows it. It works out to about just about half of what has been computed to be a living wage. You can work full-time and it’s still nowhere near close to providing for a life of basic dignity. Sure, no one’s forcing anyone with a whip to their backs to take a job that pays $7.40 an hour, but even when people are willing to work hard, and do, there’s often no way, as in none, for them to be able to make it work in this harsh, unsympathetic society.
And now the foaming at the mouth Republicans want to cut food stamps even more. The wishy-washy Democrats will undoubtedly let them get away with a little bit of it in the name of “compromise” (because they know, like the GOP knows, that the poorest of the poor seldom vote, so they’ll give on that).
Far from being Ronald Reagan’s “rising tide that lifts all boats,” in 2013 American-style capitalism is a raging tsunami of economic degradation, battering her own people against its rocks. If the news of millions of people in the richest country in the world living on less than $2 a day doesn’t shock you to your very core, what the fuck would?
Would it take a rash of childhood deaths attributed to malnourishment?
How many deaths of US children from severe malnutrition would be acceptable? Where then should society draw the line? Is allowing kids to suffer from brain damage and developmental problems okay or is that not okay?
It’s predictable that the most vulnerable are expected to bear the brunt of it. But for how long? An empty stomach breeds resentment. The GOP (and their complicit pals the moderate Democrats) seem intent on stoking the flames of class war. If they want to breed a class war mentality, they’re going about it in the right way!
Less than two dollars a day. How much lower can it go? (Hint: “To nothing” is not the correct answer)
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
We’re screwed: How will we survive in a future without jobs?
How much longer can capitalism last when robots do all the work?
Hard Times Generation: Families living in cars
Posted by Richard Metzger |