Poverty, hunger and homelessness in America
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
While the Dow Jones average has doubled in the past two years and the income of the wealthiest Americans has increased by 250 percent since 2006, a growing number of Americans have been descending into poverty, hunger and homelessness. There’s something terribly wrong with this picture, when in purportedly the wealthiest nation in the world we have the highest poverty rates of all the industrialized nations.
Just look at these shameful statistics:
• 50 million Americans (one out of every six, and one fourth of all children) are now living in poverty, without adequate nutrition, and lacking any form of health insurance.
• 15 percent of American families are considered “food insecure,” meaning they are not always able to put an adequate meal on the table, parents often going hungry to provide food for their children.
Typically, poverty has resulted from a combination of abysmally low wages and a lack of decent housing at a cost people being paid those low wages can afford.
The average annual income of the working poor in this country is less than $10,000, but there is not one county in the entire U.S. where a family with that income can find even a one-bedroom unit they can afford.
But the events of the past few years have created a whole new category of impoverished – people who were once members of the middle class, earning good incomes, making their mortgage payments, putting money aside for their children’s education and for their own retirement, and generally leading the good life that we all associate with working hard for the American Dream.
The severe recession of 2008, with its jarring losses of jobs, has put an abrupt end to the dreams of many millions of people. With their jobs went their health insurance, which means they are now saddled with medical expenses they can no longer afford on the meager income of part-time employment, or from jobs that pay only a fraction of what they were previously earning and include no benefits (if they can even find a job in their community).
The bills pile up and savings are soon exhausted. Unable to continue their mortgage payments, people are confronted with foreclosure, eviction, and in many cases, homelessness.
There were close to 2.85 million foreclosures in both 2009 and 2010, and the number in 2011 may be even higher. Nationally one home in 45 has been foreclosed, and in the worst-hit state, Nevada, one in 11.
The numbers of the homeless are hard to come up with, but could be approaching 1 million, more than half of whom are likely to be families with children. It is estimated that since 2008 the numbers of homeless families and children have increased by 23 percent and 39 percent respectively, and there may now be as many as 170,000 homeless families in the U.S.
Many of the homeless needing assistance have had to go without. In a 26-city survey, 17 reported that they had to turn away families with children. Many of these families end up living in one-night shelters or shabby motel rooms, and some are living in their cars. This has to have a devastating effect on the lives of the children, and on their self-esteem, their performance in school, and their future prospects.
The increase in poverty and homelessness growing out of the 2008 economic collapse has added tremendously to the burden on emergency food assistance programs – up 24 percent in 2010 alone. More than half of those needing food are families with children; 30 percent are employed, but just can’t keep up; and 17 percent are homeless.
Even in good times, there is a core of unemployed and homeless, many of whom are in that status by choice, or as a result of substance addiction or mental illness, or in the case of women and children, are often victims of domestic violence.
There is a tendency to claim it is their own fault that people suddenly find themselves destitute and homeless, and that they are ripping off all of us hard-working taxpaying citizens because they are too lazy to work.
This attitude is both false in the vast majority of cases and heartless. The amount of money involved is insignificant compared to the billions of dollars the white-collar crimes of Wall Street and the big bankers have cost us. There is enough wealth in this country to assist the less fortunate among us, and there should also be the will to do so.
– “As I See It” appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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