October 17 is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
Some statistics about poverty in America
1 in 7 people in the United States are living in poverty.
43.6 million Americans were living BELOW POVERTY LEVEL in 2009. (including 15.5 million children and 3.4 million seniors) Up from 37 million in 2008.
14.9 million individuals are currently unemployed.
6.2 million people were jobless for 27 weeks or more as of August 2010.
The poverty threshold in 2009 was $10,956 for an individual and $21,954 for a family of four.
In 2008, 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 32.4 million adults and 16.7 million children.
In 2008, 4.1 percent of all U.S. households (4.8 million households) accessed emergency food from a food pantry one or more times.
Usually when we think about poverty, the image that comes to mind is that of a child with a swollen belly in a “third world” country living in a community without running water and proper sewage disposal. We tend to forget that there are people in America, supposedly the most prosperous country in the world, living in poverty.
We tend to dismiss the poor in America by blaming their situation on a lack of motivation, pure laziness. We have an image of a “welfare queen” bilking the system and living in the lap of luxury at tax payer expense. We do not believe that in a nation with so much wealth, there are people starving, people without a place to lay their heads at night, people who are struggling to put clothes on the backs of their children and food in their bellies.
Americans want to believe in the inherent laziness of the poor. We do not want to believe that this is NOT the “land of opportunity” we have touted it to be. We neglect the discrepancies in job and educational opportunities available to our fellow country men. We want to ignore the fact that despite all of their efforts, some Americans are simply not afforded the same chances in life as others. We want to “blame the victim”.
When we speak about the recession and the economic crisis, much of the focus is on middle class Americans who have had to cut back on luxuries such as dinners out and vacations. We hear people complaining about having to drive an old car. We speak of people no longer able to send their children to private schools. We talk about “down sizing” for middle class folks.
Rarely is the focus on those living in poverty, those who are impacted most severely by down turns in the economy. We want to speak of those who are living in poverty as “lazy”, “unmotivated”, and “criminal” in order to distance ourselves from the possibility of ever falling into such dire economic circumstances.
In a country where there are so many excesses, we forget that there are people with literally NOTHING. Or we want to dismiss them as pathetic cretins who are not worthy of our concern.
I grew up in an upper middle class community. It was assumed that after high school, you went on to college. And after college, you would get a prestigious job, get married, buy a house, and raise some children. I never imagined I would become disabled, unable to work, unable to pay my bills or afford an apartment to live in without government assistance. I believed that the American Dream was real, not just an illusion. After all, my parents had it all, my peers had it all, so why wouldn’t I?
I live below the poverty line today. But I am lucky. I have to give thanks that I had the opportunity and the resources to apply and be accepted for assistance programs. I am well aware, that as far as poor people go, I am pretty well off. I am eligible for Section 8, food stamps, medicaid, social security.
I do not have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, or where I am going to sleep for the night. Those in the most dire circumstances are often denied even the most basic essentials. Without guidance, it is difficult to navigate the welfare system. Without an advocate, many people who would otherwise be eligible for assistance programs go without.
Without an adequate education, or assistance from an outside individual or agency, it is extremely difficult to muddle through the application process for assistance programs. For people who are not disabled, there are time limits on benefits. There are requirements forcing people who receive benefits to either work or attend vocational training. But the jobs are simply not out there. So, where does an individual whose time has run out turn?
What does someone who lacks basic literacy skills do when they are told they must either work or go to school in order to be eligible for assistance? Who watches the children while a young mother attends a training program that is preparing her for a job that no longer exists? Who is looking out for those among us who need the most yet have access to the least?