Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Cost of Poverty

Our sick society is costing us big time.  I mean financially.  Because the working poor do not earn a living wage, they often qualify for state assistance.  This comes in the form of rent assistance, food stamps, discounted lunches at schools, Medicaid for children, tax waivers, earned income credits, and others.  Of course, this assistance is sorrily needed by these people.  Without it, they would hardly be able to find shelter or put food on the table, and certainly would not be able to afford their utility bills.  Their children would have to starve at school, and their medical problems would go untreated.

It is truly disturbing that one third of our population is now lower income, and they suffer daily with these issues.  One Third!!!  And it’s growing!  Growth of the lower class means that we or our children will be likely to find ourselves there.  It’s the opposite of the American dream.  At the same time we are slashing our social programs that help these people make it from day to day, and help their children climb the social ladder to be in a better position than their parents.  No more.  If you are not afraid for yourself, your children, or your parents, you should be. 

With it becoming increasingly difficult for anyone to climb out of poverty, the little state assistance that is left gets sucked away.  Because people are not paid a livable wage; because massive corporate profits are being made at the cost of the American dream, the taxpayer must now foot the bill, and it is costly.  Medicare and Medicaid alone will cost $737 billion dollars for the Federal government, and make up a significant portion of state budgets.  Add in the costs of social program, food programs, and other state assistance, and we have a pretty massive bill shouldered by middle class tax payers.

The bill needs to be paid, no doubt.  But who should pay it?  The middle class that are being pulled down, or the upper class and big business, who sacrifice their workers’ ability to feed their families for profits?  It would be socially irresponsible and immoral to keep food from children's mouths and keep families from shelters, and the middle class foot the bill because no one else will.  The corporate tax breaks and loopholes for the rich have got to end.  They have contributed hugely to this problem, and now they should pay for it.

It is also just as irresponsible and immoral to allow this problem to grow.  Poverty will be on our door step and enveloping our families, if it isn’t already, should we continue to ignore it.  We prefer to see what we want to see, and fear looking at poverty in America as it really is; we fear it because we are all so close to being there ourselves.

Our politicians often feed into this fear, trying to make us believe that the poor are that way because they are lazy, and that programs to feed them or clothe them take away their ambition.  They want to dehumanize these poor so we cannot see ourselves in them.  But the truth is, they are in these programs because otherwise they’re children would go without food or shelter.  They have no other options because pay is horrendous when they can find a job.  Think about it.  What would you do to feed your child?  Would you take state assistance if that was your only option? 

The politicians also showcase individuals or small businesses that personify the American Dream.  Yet for each one of these examples, how many have fallen through the cracks.  What are the real wages and working conditions of these so-called model factories.  Often in these situations I think of Catherine the Great and her fake villages in Russia meant to fool foreign dignitaries.  Instead of foreigners though, our politicians are trying to fool us.

So what can we do?  How do we prevent this problem from growing?  How do we get those who caused the poverty to pay for it?  We need to institute a living wage, close tax loopholes for corporations, raise taxes on the wealthy, and create education programs to lift people out of poverty.  This will increase our tax base all around, and decrease the number of people who need assistance.  It will cut into corporate profits, but hey, that never hurt us in the 50s and 60s, and a healthy middle class will spur innovation, social mobility, and economic independence for all.

Some more links to check out:
The Shrinking Middle Class
The Federal Budget
The Working Poor Families Project 
Child Poverty in America


  1. Well said and sadly true. I'm always at a loss as to sum up this situation in words and when I do I get accused of some meaningless phrase like "class warfare."

  2. Unfortunately that is very common, and very hard to combat. By shrewd PR tactics, corporate America and their special interests have been able to pit us against each other, and once someone starts talking about real issues, they get accused of class warfare or being a socialist. Hang in there though, and don't be afraid to express your views. We need to open a dialogue with our communities and our neighbors about the real causes of our decline.

    I saw you live in the Bluff Country, btw. That's my favorite part of MN. I have some family in Money Creek, and I love to spend time down there. Having traveled the world, there are few places that have ever brought me the peace that SE MN brings.