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Monday, August 23, 2004

Poverty, Isolation, Indifference...

These three seem to go hand-in-hand in today's America. In his article Jim Wallis talks about the plight of a single mother working what is recognized as a staple of dead-end low-paid occupations,- serving customers at a drive-through window at a Burger King.
"Soccer moms" and "NASCAR dads" have received much attention in recent election campaigns. But who will speak to or for Burger King Mom? She may live in a red or blue state, but neither party is much interested in her or her family's issues.
It has been my experience that many in the US view poverty as a stigma. The victims of this affliction have only themselves to blame, is a common opinion. Walking down the streets of Denver where hardly anyone ever walks and most people just drive I have had my share of insults yelled at me out of the passing vehicles. Ironically, at the time I likely was better of than many a yeller. However, the perception is obviously there,- anyone walking,- not driving,- down a suburban street in an all-American city in an old pair jeans and an old jacket or sweater is a loser of some sort, homeless or just too poor to even get a car, that all-American symbol of financial independence and mobility. Needless to say I did have a vehicle at the time, and could indeed afford expensive clothes. For the latter part I simply have not seen a compelling need ever since I left my teenage years and their attendant insecurities behind me.

For many, the poverty is there as an affliction, the mere thought of it is too worrisome to concentrate upon. But it is there, and the best I can tell it ain't going nowhere no time soon. Mr Wallis appears to second this perception of mine.
The Republicans look after their wealthy constituents, and the Democrats want to be the champions of the middle class. Neither makes a priority of the needs of the poor. Is that because the problems of poverty are disappearing in America? Hardly. The poverty rate (including that for children) has risen over the past two years. More people than ever are without health insurance. Increasing numbers of people can't find affordable housing. The minimum wage hasn't been raised for seven years.
In many ways, I agree with his views of what is wrong with both major parties, as well as the overall political discourse in the US.
We need to redefine the poverty issue as one of growing income inequality in America, and one that increasingly affects working families. American inequality is now greater than at any time since the roaring injustice of the 1920s or the rampant wealth and poverty of the Gilded Age in the 19th century. The Bush administration's tax policies seem deliberately aimed at returning to the wealth distribution of those periods. But especially since the 1990s, both parties are following the dictates of their corporate donors more than the dictates of compassion or justice. The Republicans run as compassionate conservatives and then govern as corporatists, while the Democrats run as populists, then also govern as corporatists.
While I am not sure what the fix ought to be here, there is definitely a problem that we have to recognize and address. And you don't have to like the poor or even sympathize with them. Just bear in mind one thing,- they are there, they are alive, they are (fortunately) not emaciated from starvation, and yes, they have the strength to stand up for themselves and eventually they will if we force them to. We can work towards finding a compromise that works for everybody,- or else, I am afraid, a civil war will become as inevitable as death and taxes.

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