Thursday, June 16, 2005

Poverty, The 38 Million

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There is the belief that any American can achieve their dreams with determination and hard work. It was in fact, that “bootstrapedness” that moved the Nation’s boundaries from the small portion of the East to what would encompass the entire contiguous nation, from sea to shining sea. We were, as a young nation, determined to give everyone the opportunity to live out his/her destiny based upon those goals: determination and hard work.

As a new nation founded by small communities of people with common vision and goals - farms, small towns and cities began to dot the landscape and the American dream was born. Poverty was relatively non-existent as a “national issue” because those that fell on hard-times were assisted by their neighbors to rise above adversity. It was this spirit of community that saved many a person out on the prairies of America and fostered the spirit of giving and generosity in the heart of the Nation.

Today, the United States of America is one of the richest countries in the world. The United States is the most self-sufficient nation in the world in terms of housing and producing its own sources of food, water and fuel. Yet, the statistics show overwhelmingly that many Americans are suffering the plight of the impoverished that rivals some of the poorest nations in the world! In a time in our history when some would seek to define our nation by its “Christian heritage” it grows harder to see the one base virtue of “charity” at work in the impoverished places and faces of America.

The Statistics

According to the Census Bureau in 2003, over 35.9 million Americans are considered to be living in poverty and the numbers are on the rise, up by 1.3 million only the year before. Since the year 2000 a staggering 4.4 million people have entered the realms of poverty in the United States of America.

In 2004, 7.6 million families were living impoverished a huge jump since the year 2000.

Since 2003, 8 states have seen a growth in poverty, while only two states have seen a decline.

Over 17.6% of those that are in poverty, are beneath the age of 18
Over 10.2% are the nations elderly, over the age of 65 years.
Over 10.8% are aged 18 – 64

As we consider these numbers, we must also consider the disparity between those who “have” and those who “have not”.

"While the wealthier Americans have seen pay dramatically increase—fueled by stocks and other compensations, wages of lower-wage workers have dwindled." According to the Economic Policy Institute.

Over 12.6 million American households were concerned that their children or families would go to bed hungry on any given night. That number is up by 1.6 million, from the year 2000. They cope by receiving food baskets, less varied meals of lower nutritional value and visiting emergency shelters and soup kitchens.

These numbers can no longer be wished away. They can no longer be doctored. America has trouble, right here at home.

"Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps"
Increasingly alarming is the attitude that these impoverished people are those that feed off the welfare system and have no desire to work.

The statistics once again are alarmingly clear:

If a family makes less than $15,000.00 a year, they are Poverty.
36 million Americans live at or beneath this amount.
1 in 4 Americans who are living at the Poverty level do in fact hold full and/or part time jobs.
More than 5% of Americans in the workforce work two jobs to attempt to make ends meet and still live in poverty.

"That’s what they get for being single parent families."
There is the common misconception that those that receive assistance or are in need of it, are because they are families that are single-parent households – products of divorce and illegitimate births.

The statistics are clear:

53% of the nation’s poor families are headed by married couples.
11.2% of households in America are struggling to make ends meet. With both parents working in the world at the current minimum wage they would still find themselves in the poverty range.

"Show up for work more and don’t call out sick!"
Of the Americans that are living in poverty range, most have no health care what so ever.

Over 45 million Americans are uninsured and unable to meet the cost of seeing a doctor and/or obtaining necessary medicines for their illnesses. The common cold can now KILL in the United States of America.

So where IS the money going?
So where is our Nation’s care and concern for its citizens? Where is the money that is needed to ensure that the richest nation in the world does not allow its people to go to bed hungry and cold and ill?

According to the National Priorities Project, the average Oklahoman paid $4,143.00 in taxes this year. Of that money, $1,242.00 went to military spending and defense costs. That is over .30 cents on the dollar. That is followed up with $770.00 of your hard- earned tax dollars going to the interest on national debt for military and non-military spending.

For those Oklahomans who are feeling the cinchers on their wallet and on their Walmart $8.00 Rustlers, you will be happy to know that $200.00 went to your housing and nutrition needs programs. You veterans?? Hope you are tickled pink with your $142.00 in benefits received from the collection of your tax money.

The statistics are clear once again:

Half of a penny out of a dollar was spent on energy conservation.

Housing assistance accounted for two cents out of every dollar.

Veterans’ benefits account for 3.4 cents out of every dollar

Interest payments on national debt account for 18.2 cents out of every dollar.

The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rise by the second and now are in the trillions of dollars. It would be reasonable to assume that the interest payments portion of the dollar will probably steadily increase in relationship to our time and dollars spent abroad.

I wonder, if the child that goes to bed hungry tonight in: Los Angeles, Bozeman, Reno, Santa Fe, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Peoria, New Orleans, Asheville, Miami, New York, Boston, etc...etc...etc... will understand that it’s all in the interest of fighting the war on terror? I wonder if as someone dies in this nation from the common cold or something easily cured will fall to the grave peacefully knowing that we are still hot on the trail of Osama bin Laden? I wonder if the elderly woman who had to choose between eating and taking her rheumatoid arthritis medicine can quench her hunger pangs by knowing that perhaps tomorrow, Meals on Wheels will come with something new, something different or something at all.

May God Bless America.

Patricia - Ancient Eyes for Current Times

Before I begin my response, I first want to say that this is a great post. It brings up the very issue of socialism vs. absolute capitalism, the socio-political ideal that most conservatives support. This is and has for a long time been the main issue at the heart of the quest for the American Dream. How do we go about finding it? What is the best way to promote it? Is it truly possible or merely a myth? That is what this post is about.

Patricia wrote that, "Poverty was relatively non-existent as a “national issue” because those that fell on hard-times were assisted by their neighbors to rise above adversity." This was part of the American way of life until very recently. Only in the past hundred years have neighbors
stopped helping neighbors and adopted an "every man for himself" attitude. From the very beginning, Americans lived very socialistic lives, working as a community and pooling resources to ensure that each individual had the best opportunity possible to succeed. This is the true "old" way of life. Conservatives preach a return to this sense of community, to this old tradition. However, with the majority of conservative politicians overwhelmingly supporting big business at the cost of the little man, are they truly fighting for the "old" way of life or are they fighting for something more sinister? Big business is not the old way of life and it is definitely not a symbol of traditional American values. Absolute free trade is a roadblock to the American Dream, not a path to it.

Patricia then wrote that, "According to the Census Bureau in 2003, over 35.9 million Americans are considered to be living in poverty and the numbers are on the rise, up by 1.3 million only the year before. Since the year 2000 a staggering 4.4 million people have entered the realms of poverty in the United States of America." These statistics are proof that the more support big business receives over the common man, the more the common man will suffer as a consequence. It is possible for industry and the common good to be balanced so that all may profit but by the nature of wealth and the evil it breeds, allowing a class of people to obtain near absolute dominance over other people is never the path. During recent years of conservative control, these problems have multiplied and grown worse, not better. If giving more freedom to industry worked, these statistics would be reversed.

Later on, Patricia wrote, "Increasingly alarming is the attitude that these impoverished people are those that feed off the welfare system and have no desire to work." I completely agree and understand this. I believe there are two reasons why so many are taking this attitude. First, many are becoming spoiled, accustomed to others taking care of them because they have
had to depend on others for so long. Second, many people get used to having to depend on help and they simply give up on their dreams, assuming the worst will last forever and nothing will improve. Because of these individuals, both the ones who become lazy and those who give up in
depression, welfare programs are bursting at the seams. This suggests that a moderate system of government reform and free trade regulations is needed to promote industry and provide citizens the chance to make their own way.

Finally, Patricia summed up the general poverty situation in America when she said, "I wonder, if the child that goes to bed hungry tonight in: Los Angeles, Bozeman, Reno, Santa Fe, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Peoria, New Orleans, Asheville, Miami, New York, Boston, etc…etc…etc… will understand that it’s all in the interest of fighting the war on terror?" The only answer here that works is no. How does one explain to a child or other starving American that can't get a good paying job that the government feels they need to starve because helping Iraq is more important? How do you prove that oil and a vendetta are not the cause of war? How do you explain to them that the President cares even though he does almost nothing to help?

America is a nation built on neighbors helping neighbors and those who are better off helping others. It is fast becoming something else, however, a nation where the rich grow richer at the expense of and with no concern for the poor. Patricia draws several important points in her post. It is necessary that we see things for what they are because a problem that is not
realized is a problem that we cannot overcome.

Joseph - The New Oklahoma Democrat

Where do I start? Wow Patricia, you really do know how to come out fighting with your first post. Poverty in America, well let me start with a personal story then I will go from there. As many of you may or may not know, I grew up poor. While I rarely went to bed hungry, (mainly due to garbage soup and hobo stew) I did have all the struggles that the poor generally have, and I grew up in a single parent family, so I know first hand much of what Patricia speaks of. We moved allot, anytime Mom had trouble paying the rent, we would just find a new place to live. School shopping always happened at the thrift store, and Christmas and birthdays came from the discount store (we call them dollar stores now). My toys consisted of no name action figures and hand me down legos. We never wasted anything, for several years I remember we didn't have a tree for Christmas, one year Mom showed up with Half an artificial tree, to this day I don't know where she got it, because the top was missing we called it the Hanukah Bush, we didn't know any better, we had that "bush" for about three years. And then slowly, with allot of work, things got better. As far as I know Mom used some assistance, the food bank, and unemployment when she lost her job for a while, but only for a short while. Then we worked hard as a team, and eventually, we were living in our own house. I could get shoes that weren't Made in Korea, and eventually we got two cars, so I could learn to drive.

That all seems so long ago but I have never forgotten the lessons I learned back then. If you work hard, and use the assistance when you need it, and accept charity when it is offered, you WILL get by. And when you work hard and improve yourself you can break out of the poverty mold, and live a comfortable life, but no one is going to hand it to you. It's all in your attitude and the attitude of your community.

I will acknowledge that more can be done in our society that will lead to the betterment of all. We need better work skills and education programs to give people the tools to succeed. It goes along with the "teach a man to fish" thing that is so often overlooked, mainly because it is a hard route to take.

I believe in charity, and I myself get involved with local charities both physically and monetarily, but what I have seen over time is that I do NOT want the Government to become the charity, for two reasons. One, that is wholly a socialist/communist idea and has failed miserably over and over, leading to a society with very high taxation, very big government, a redistribution of wealth, and very limited benefit. The net result being EVERYONE is poor, NO ONE is happy, and the government is a self-feeding, self-expanding entity. Two, it just doesn’t work, nor does it allow for choice. IF I feel a charity is worthy of my money, I will give to them and help them out, but if I feel my money would be wasted by a certain charity, I am not going to give them my money, just to stuff someone else's pocket.

No, getting involved in your community, and helping with issues you feel strongly about, is a much better answer. It is not the Governments job to provide for its people's every need. We are guaranteed Life, Liberty and the PURSUIT of happiness, meaning no one will unjustly kill us, we are free to do as we choose as long as it doesn't infringe on someone else's liberty, and we are free to try to make a life for ourselves. Nowhere in there is a guarantee of success, That you must do for yourself. Maybe that is harsh, but I did it, and I believe anyone else can too; I am not special, I just worked my way out.

Zaphriel - Birth of a Neocon

Patricia paints the usual liberal portrait of America; Dire poverty, with more Americans becoming impoverished each and every day. She conjures images of soup lines, and children with large eyes and swollen bellies, and elderly people choosing dog food to pay for their medications.

She then blames, in order of appearance Christians, the wealthy, conservatives, and the current favorite of the left, the war. To back her case, she uses Census data from 2003, guaranteed to paint her picture of horror in America.

But what does this data really suggest? Is it the picture of a broken and blighted country, as the left would prefer us to believe? Let’s see, shall we?

The Heritage Foundation took a close look at the Census figures and found this:

“The Census Bureau reports that 35.9 million persons "lived in poverty" in 2003. To understand poverty in America, it is important to look behind these numbers and examine the actual living conditions of the individuals the government deems to be poor.7 For most Americans, the word "poverty" suggests destitution--an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. Yet only a small number of the millions of persons classified as "poor" by the Census Bureau fit that description. Although real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity. Most of America's "poor" live in material conditions that would be judged as comfortable or well off just a few generations ago.

The following facts about persons defined as "poor" by the Census Bureau are taken from various government reports:

  • Forty-six percent of all poor households own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as "poor" by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.
  • Seventy-six percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
  • Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.
  • The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)
  • Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars.
  • Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television. Over half own two or more color televisions.
  • Seventy-eight percent of America's poor own a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.
  • Seventy-three percent of America's poor own microwave ovens; more than half have a stereo; and one-third have an automatic dishwasher.

As a group, America's poor are far from being chronically undernourished. The average consumption of protein, vitamins, and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children and, in most cases, is well above recommended norms. Poor children actually consume more meat than do higher-income children and have average protein intakes that are 100 percent above recommended levels. Most poor children in America today are, in fact, super-nourished and grow up to be, on average, one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier that the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.

But wait. Don’t the "poor" in America experience hunger?

Although the poor are generally well nourished, some poor families do experience hunger--meaning a temporary discomfort due to food shortages. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2002, 13 percent of poor families and 2.6 percent of poor children experienced hunger at some point during the year.8 In most cases, their hunger was short term. Eighty-nine percent of the poor reported that their families had "enough" food to eat,9 while only 2 percent said they "often" did not have enough to eat.10

Here is a statement far closer to reality in The United States than Patricia’s bleak picture:

Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family's essential needs. Although this individual's life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, activists, and politicians.

“But wait!” I hear someone screaming. “That doesn’t represent ALL poor people in America!” You’re right:

Of course, the living conditions of the average poor American should not be taken as representing all the poor. There is actually a wide range in living conditions among the poor. For example, over a quarter of poor households have cell phones and telephone answering machines, but at the other extreme, approximately one-tenth have no phone at all. While the majority of poor households do not experience significant material problems, roughly a third do experience at least one problem such as overcrowding, temporary hunger, or difficulty obtaining medical care. However, even in households in which such problems do occur, the hardship is generally not severe by historic or international standards.

Based on the above, is it any wonder that our borders are being crossed by truly impoverished immigrants by the thousands? Would they be coming, and more importantly staying, based on Patricia’s dire portrait of American? Having served some time as a missionary in Mexico, I can tell you what true poverty is. Those people would give, and indeed have given, a lot to be defined as “impoverished” by the standards of this nation.

So, what about the poor in American? Back to the Heritage Foundation report:

The best news is that remaining poverty can readily be reduced further, particularly among children. There are two main reasons that American children are poor: Their parents don't work much, and fathers are absent from the home. In good economic times or bad, the typical poor family with children is supported by only 800 hours of work each year: That amounts to 16 hours of work per week. If work in each family were raised to 2,000 hours per year--the equivalent of one adult working 40 hours per week throughout the year--nearly 75 percent of poor children would be lifted out of official poverty.11

Father absence is another major cause of child poverty. Nearly two-thirds of poor children reside in single-parent homes. Each year, an additional 1.3 million children are born out of wedlock. If poor mothers married the fathers of their children, almost three-quarters would immediately be lifted out of poverty. If welfare could be turned around to really require work and to encourage marriage, remaining poverty would drop quickly.12

I know the left doesn’t want to admit it, but The Great Society failed. You need look no further than the Public Housing in our large cities to see the results of that failure. And you need look no further than the Welfare to Work program signed by Clinton (at the insistence of a Republican Congress) in 1997 to see part of a way out.

This debate could fill books, and has. The healthcare issues Patricia raises probably deserve a separate posting at some point. But just one more thing. This from Patricia:

In a time in our history when some would seek to define our nation by its “Christian heritage” it grows harder to see the one base virtue of “charity” at work in the impoverished places and faces of America.

President Bush’s Faith Based Initiative ,the Salvation Army , Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services, are just a few of the ones I’ve worked with personally as a therapist. In fact, I got my start working with public aid clients, and have spent much of my professional career working with those who are down and out.

You can’t even begin to list the other denominational charities and thousands of local churches, synagogues and mosques across the country working to spread “charity” to those who need it. Just take a look at those who are needy who have received, and continue to receive that aid in the impoverished places and faces of America, from Christians. And Jews. And Muslims.

The question that remains is this: What are you doing for the truly needy in this country? It’s easy to moan about the poor. But truth lies in what you are doing for the poor? You. Personally. Right now.

Tough question, huh?

May God continue to bless The United States of America.

Mark - Liberty Just In Case

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