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Friday, February 23, 2007

Welcome To Cheneyville

Okay, seriously, is anyone really surprised at this?

The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation's "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen.

A McClatchy News Service analysis of the 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 -- half the federal poverty line -- was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year.

The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. That's much faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period.


No doubt a generation of smug post-Reagan TV twits has conditioned many people -- even otherwise self-described liberals -- to make reflexive assumptions about poor people. They're either stupid, lazy, or both, practically by definition. (As if Paris Hilton and most of the Bush clan were not also both of those things, and demonstrably so.) In America, even poor people are fat and have color TVs. That sort of thing.

And of course poverty is a relative thing, in that in other countries, poverty is quite literally a life-threatening condition, with a greater immediacy of danger to the people living in it. (And yes, Robert Mugabe's thuggish despotism is and should be held directly responsible for the inexcusable misery of his people and the squandering of one of Africa's few decent post-colonial economies. And, um, someone else bears responsibility for one-third of Iraqis now having to eke their way through brutish and foreshortened lives by scavenging in garbage dumps. This is what the administration meat puppets consider successmanship. Good for them. At least we know exactly where they stand.)

But this is not only a symptom of the lower two (or even three) quintiles of American society slipping further and further down, but of the increasingly serious income disparity. Even as more and more people are forced to figure out how to support a family of four on less than $10K per year, the precious few at the very top accumulate more and still more.

Americans, proud of what we presume to be a classless society, tend to dismiss even the appearance of "class warfare". This is ridiculous, because it presumes that we have any say in the matter, and that it hasn't already been happening. We have been trained somehow to shy away from picking on predatory capitalism (as opposed to genuine capitalism), while we look askance at the consistent, continuous transfer of wealth upstream.

When our government's priorities are skewed far more in favor of helping the WalMart Walton family, already billionaires many times over, save $32.7 billion more in the next decade, than to help the poorest of the poor from freezing to death in the winter, or giving them a fuckin' sack of groceries once or twice a month, then we might as well be done for.

It is absolutely unconscionable that we can find money in the budget for the most ridiculous shit, for bridges to nowhere, and museums to nothing, but we can't help little old ladies from freezing or having to survive on cat food. That's where the rot of a nation's soul takes hold, when we fight exponentially harder for swag-bellied plutocrats and useless heiresses than for our own neighbors -- or even ourselves. And we disenfranchise ourselves with our distractions, and our apathy and cynicism, until it's us having to choose between health care and food.

2 comments:

john lenin said...

No doubt a generation of smug post-Reagan TV twits has conditioned many people -- even otherwise self-described liberals -- to make reflexive assumptions about poor people. They're either stupid, lazy, or both, practically by definition. (As if Paris Hilton and most of the Bush clan were not also both of those things, and demonstrably so.) In America, even poor people are fat and have color TVs. That sort of thing.


Back in the late '90s, I was in sort of a soft-Luddite phase, eschewing TV and the Internet. A friend was buying a computer, so he gave me his old WebTV for free.

During the time I was on it, I lurked in the discussion groups. Apparently, a lot of the people there were too poor/cheap to get a computer, or they were uneducated and had no plans to go back to school, so they didn't feel they needed one (and as you can imagine, there were a hell of a lot of lonely bored housewives from the good old heartland in there who would divulge just about anything about themselves, asked or not, just to communicate with someone). Typical, ordinary, Gawd-fearin' folk, is what I'm getting at. I'm not sneering at them, just stressing that this was like the motherlode of run of the mill, conventional wisdom here.

I was amazed to see how perfectly they all reflected the Reaganesque suspicion of the poor and of anything remotely liberal in general. Typical Fox News viewers who blamed political correctness for everything they didn't like, bitched about illegal immigrants who wouldn't speak English, complained about "reverse racism" that prevented them from being able to be openly proud of being white, and they apparently honestly believed that most tax money went to social welfare programs for people who were too lazy to work unlike themselves, the bootstrap-tuggin' people they were.

My point being - these were people who just punched their timeclock and came home to sit in front of the tube. No cosmopolitan wonder about the wider world or intellectual curiousity, just passive blank slates to a large extent. The fact that they had the whole spiel down like that made me realize how much that kind of narrative makes up the intellectual atmosphere in this country. I began to think of them as canaries in the coal mine, showing just how much of a struggle it will be to ever get near anything resembling a truly liberal society.

Heywood J. said...

Right. These people are more conditioned than informed or educated. This is not to say that some of their basic assumptions don't have truth to them, just that their priorities have been upturned by conditioning.

I'm sure we've all known at least one person who had a knack for grifting the system. Sadly, I've known several such people, each of whom had an actual marketable skill, but neither the drive nor the will to even try. So I understand the frustration working people feel, seeing people whom they feel are doing nothing to better themselves or justify themselves. It's irritating.

But those working people also have to think about the rest of the social safety net, most of which helps people geniunely in need -- the commodity subsidies their farmer neighbors receive, the SSI checks their disabled brother-in-law receives, that sort of thing.

There will always be grifters in any system, but I am far more concerned about the people who charge the taxpayers 1100 bucks for a screwdriver, than someone living in a dump who's managed to find a small toehold in a finite welfare system.

And the people who do not even consider that, I simply assume that they've been effectively conditioned by the media owned by the very same corporations selling those $1100 screwdrivers. It works too well; it encourages them to replace their common sense with the Maslovian needs pyramid.