“America’s Poor: Where Poverty Is Rising In America” comes with a handy map that answers the question, “Where in America is poverty getting worse?” The answer is, just about everywhere. As a whole, we are in the worst shape we have been in since the Census Bureau started publishing these numbers 51 years ago. Economic homelessness, the plight of people who can’t afford housing even though they are working, is a growing condition.
From The Huffington Post via Yahoo! News:
Income inequality hit an all-time high before the recession, according University of California, Berkeley, economist Emmanuel Saez. States, faced with an estimated budget shortfall of $380 billion for 2011, have started to cut crucial services and have laid off thousands of workers.
The interactive map that accompanies the article was created by the personal-finance website Mint, and if you happen to feel like getting really depressed, spend a few minutes rolling your cursor over the various states so the numbers will appear. What’s the percentage of people in your state living in poverty? Here in Colorado, it’s about 12%, which is not bad, not bad at all. And that reaction is indicative of the depth of the problem. When the fact that only 12 out of every hundred people are destitute (or heading that way fast) sounds like good news, something is seriously wrong.
Because hey, it could be worse! This could be Mississippi, where more than 20% of the people are officially defined as poor. Although Mississippi is the worst, the Southern states in general are pretty much one big poverty pocket. People in rural areas are poor. And so are people in the big Northern and Western cities like New York and Los Angeles. And just so nobody feels left out, people in the suburbs are poor too. In fact, one-third of the poor people in America live in the suburbs, the neat, snug Ozzie-and Harriet-land where life was always supposed to be perfect.
To put it another way, one in seven Americans now lives in poverty. To put it yet another way, 43.6 million Americans are now living in poverty. The jobs are gone, and with them went the health insurance. The minimum wage is a joke, the working poor can’t afford even the cheapest housing, and the mental health status of people is perilous as a result of dealing with all this. Even those who are working to house the homeless are looking over their shoulders, fearing that their turn will come next.
The article mentioned above provides plenty of links to related articles, like the one from The Huffington Post titled, “The Poorest States in the U.S.,” by Nathaniel Cahners Hindman, from which we learn that the statistics can be sliced another way. Hindman reports,
The percentage of Americans living on incomes that were less than half of their state’s poverty threshold — or had an income-to-poverty ratio below 50 percent — grew to 6.3 percent from 5.6 percent in 2009, and was highest in Washington, D.C.
We’re talking about people whose income levels don’t even make it halfway to “poor.” They are truly “looking up at the bottom line.” And the place where this is happening most is in the District of Columbia, in the city of Washington. People, this is our nation’s capitol. The proud monuments of our history cast their shadows over some of the most down-and-out residents of the entire country, who live in the same geographical region as some of the wealthiest beneficiaries of the screwed-up mess this country has become. Because, oh yes, there is even more news on this front.
A thing called “income inequality” is worse than it has ever been, too. That means the gap, the difference between being really poor and really rich, has stretched to its furthest extreme. The wealthy are not just five times better off than the poor, or even a hundred times better off. The disparity factor is 1,500%, as we learn from a preview of Arianna Huffington’s book, Third World America.
Is there hope? Yes, if we do the right thing. Richard R. Troxell of House the Homeless says,
America can change this entire paradigm. We need to stop guiding and directing people to get on the dole. We are about to break the back of the average taxpayer. We need to make work pay. We need to encourage people to work, and we can do that by ensuring that anyone working 40 hours in a week can afford the basics: food, clothing, and shelter (including utilities), no matter where that work is done throughout the entire United States. That my friend, is the Universal Living Wage.
Source: “America’s Poor: Where Poverty Is Rising In America,” Yahoo! News, 10/19/10
Source: “The Poorest States in the U.S.,” The Huffington Post, 09/29/10
Source: “8 Surprising Facts About the Shrinking Middle Class,” The Huffington Post, 08/09/10
Image by Ken Lund, used under its Creative Commons license.