Friday, September 16, 2011

Income and Poverty in the US

Where do people earn the Per Capita Income? More than one poor starving soul would like to know. In our countries, numbers live better than people. How many people prosper in times of prosperity? How many people find their lives developed by development?
Eduardo Galleano, “Those Little Numbers and People.”

The census has just released a report called “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010” (PDF) and all the media has picked up various aspects of the data and its meanings. It is pretty much all bad news as far as I can see. Basically more people became poor and the poor got poorer. Here are just some of the statistics from that report:
  • There are 46 million Americans -- about one in six -- living below the poverty line. That's the largest number on record. More Americans are impoverished than at any point in nearly five decades of record-keeping.
  • Since the recession began in 2007, median household income has fallen 6.4%, to $49,445.
  • Some 5.9 million people between ages 25 and 34 live with their parents, an increase of about 25% from 2007. About 45.3% of those young adults would be in poverty if they lived alone.
  • About 49.9 million Americans lacked health insurance, the report also said. That number has soared by 13.3 million since 2000.
This poverty is racialized. African Americans experienced the highest poverty rate at 27%, up from 25% in 2009, and Latinos rose to 26% from 25%. Just fewer than 10% of white people lived in poverty, up from 9.4% in 2009. Asians were unchanged at 12.1 percent. 40% of black children and 33% of Latino children now live in poverty, compared to 21.6% of children overall. The infant mortality rate for black infants is twice that of white infants. In most measures of income, of unemployment, of assets, people of color have fared far worse than white people, expanding an already disgraceful gap.

Further, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has both the highest overall poverty rate and the highest childhood poverty rate of any major industrialized country on earth. This comes at a time when the U.S. also has the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth with the top 1 percent earning more than the bottom 50 percent.

According to the latest figures from the OECD (PDF), 21.6 percent of American children live in poverty. This compares to 3.7 percent in Denmark, 5 percent in Finland, 5.5 percent in Norway 6.9 percent in Slovenia, 7 percent in Sweden, 7.2 percent Hungary, 8.3 percent in Germany, 8.8 percent in the Czech Republic, 9.3 percent in France, 9.4 percent in Switzerland.

Given that the poverty line in 2010 for a family of four was $22,314, this numbers become even more stark. Try living with three other people on $22,000 a year anywhere in this country. It is next to impossible.

Of course, older people actually did not take nearly the hit of everyone else, in part because of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security—government programs that actually do their job of keeping people out of poverty.

What do you do with numbers like these? Read them and weep? I find myself wanting to eat salty fatty foods, like French fries, and tool around on the internet to learn how one emigrates to Norway. I sign petitions on-line, post articles on Facebook and tweet and retweet items of interest or excellent analysis.
My frustration is that two key solutions to our vast problems are not difficult to understand:
  1. Immediately create and implement a fair and just tax structure. Stop offshore tax havens, bring back higher top marginal tax rates, make corporations pay their fair share; and
  2. Create a federal jobs program and put people to work. Spend all the money you can on that.
Nothing new and unheard of is called for: simply a commitment to the common good. Langston Hughes wrote years ago, “American never was America to me. But I make this solemn vow: America will be.” I have to join him in believing that “America will be.” There aren’t many other choices that don’t require plunging into despair.

No comments: