You didn't know Poverty Day was a thing? I kid, it’s not really something worth celebrating, but this is the one time a year when we can count on the media to focus on the economy as it is experienced by the millions who are struggling to make ends meet. Most other days we get news about the record profits of the banks that tanked the economy 5 years ago, or the latest worries over how our dysfunctional Congress could threaten the economy by repeating the debt-ceiling drama of 2 years ago. But for today, the headlines read that the poverty rate was “unchanged” and “hold(ing) steady.”
But a stable poverty rate is not a good thing when 15% of the population, 22% of children, and more than one-quarter of both the Black (27%) and Latino (26%) communities fall under it. The fact that the poverty rate is “stuck” at a record 46.5 million (it was 46.2 million in 2011) should be a sign to our nation’s decision-makers that we really are living in a country with two contrasting economic realities. Sadly many members of Congress seem intent on shredding the social safety net. This week we could see a vote in the House of Representatives on a heartless Farm Bill that would cut $4 billion a year from the SNAP program (the anti-hunger program formerly known as Food Stamps) at a time when the USDA is reporting that nearly 50 million Americans struggled with hunger last year. And across the states, far too many governors and legislatures have been more interested in playing politics than giving poor people access to lifesaving Medicaid coverage.
For the service providers, organizers and other nonprofit types who are doing their best to step in and help, today’s release of the poverty data only confirms what they see every day in their communities. Workers are struggling to provide for their families, entire neighborhoods haven’t bounced back from the last recession, and more and more people keep falling deeper into economic despair. But it seems that the stories of 15% of the population can’t compete with the 1% who are doing very well right now and paying handsomely to control our “billion-dollar democracy.”
Right now, the organized millions of a few people dominate the public debate and policymaking; and that leads to record poverty, mean-spirited legislation and more austerity politics. The only way to overpower organized money is to organize the millions of people who want and need fair wages, food stamps and a safety net that actually works. It’s going to take all of us.