November 2, 2011
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 43.0 million Americans lived in poverty in the fall of 2010. That’s about 14 percent, or one person out of every seven. For a family of four, poverty “officially” means that the household has an income level of $22,000 or less. For a family of two, it’s $14,500 or less.
Questions: How many of us who are not in “official” poverty status think we could live with those levels of income? And, if we think we can survive on those levels of income, how well would we be living? How much money would we be able allocate to (1) housing, (2) food, (3) clothing, (4) transportation, (5) education, (6) insurance, (7) savings, and, dare we add, (8) entertainment and recreation?
Most of us would conclude, after buying a few groceries or a few gallons of gas, or after paying our health insurance premiums or our monthly rent or mortgage… most of us would conclude that the “official” poverty levels are, if anything, far too low.
But not to worry!
Those in the official poverty category are doing just fine. Or, so says a spokesman for the Heritage Foundation, in a “Notables & Quotables” piece published by The Wall Street Journal recently. According to this Heritage notable, these are the pertinent facts about the officially-poor:
- Computers in the home – 50 percent.
- Air conditioning – more than 75 percent.
- Cable or satellite TV – more than 66 percent.
- Microwave ovens – more than 90 percent.
- Wide screen TV – more than 33 percent.
- Xbox or PlayStation – “typical”
- Homeless – one in 70.
- Living in a trailer home – 10 percent.
- Children with very low food security (per the USDA) – 988,000 in 2000.
The notable says he is quoting data “the most recent government data.” Sure! And he adds: “The rest live in houses or apartments, many of which are in good repair. The poor are rarely overcrowded. …Ninety-nine percent of children did not skip a single meal because of lack of financial resources.”
Sooo… not to worry! The poor are doing just fine. They have computers, TV’s, housing (many of which are in “good repair”), microwaves, and play stations. And only a million of so of their children are “very low food secure.”
This is the gospel of the Heritage Foundation. This is deemed worth reprinting in The Wall Street Journal. And you wonder why the U.S.is in the condition it’s in! Why the rich refuse to pay more taxes! What budgets must be balanced with cuts only. This same “poor doing just fine” gospel also preaches indifference to mass layoffs, underfunding education and training, the wisdom of sending jobs overseas. It preaches individual responsibility along with some kind of Ayn Rand apathy. It presumes inevitability and predestination as an alterantive to community harmony and compassion.
I have an idea—let’s swap lives for awhile. Let’s have the rich live as the “officially” poor live for just six months or so. Then let’s see what might be “notable and quotable” after that. The six-month swap should be no problem for anyone; after all, the “officially” poor have television and air-conditioning, and there are only about a million “officially” hungry children in the neighborhood.
Another “notable” wrote something somewhat related to this subject in the London City A.M. following the recent riots in England. These were riots that somewhat shocked Americans because our impression of the Brits is that they’re quite sedate, well-mannered, and “stiff upper lip” about most things. There was little that was sedate or accommodating about these riots!
What were the circumstances of the rioters? Try poverty. Try unemployment. Try the impeding difficulties of austerity measures to solve national fiscal problems. Try the fact that England is a leader in economic disparity; its gap between rich and poor is one of the developed nations largest. The gap, of course, is something certain “notables” in America think is as it should be in a harmonious community; that is, as long as the poor have television sets.
How to develop a harmonious community? The British government thinks austerity measures and tougher police action will do it (though they’re cutting police budgets at the same stroke). Greece is trying to move to the same austerity programs; and there’s been abundant discord in the streets there too.
The London City notable wrote: “I cannot remember anything like it; the atrocities of the 7/7 terror attacks, the shock from 9/11 and the IRA’s repeated terrorist attacks had a chilling, devastating effect… but it felt different this time. Usually peaceful suburbs were under siege; meanwhile, there was increasing violence in other towns. The government belatedly appeared to regain control in London but the electorate’s trust that the cavalry would show up if you call 999 has been shattered.”
Is that it? Is that what keeps us calm here in the U.S.–the sense that the “cavalary will show up” if the poor get too demanding? Will the cavalary soon sweep the OSW gatherings from the streets and parks of U.S. cities?
Is there more riot to come in the struggling economies and the communities of the developed nations where inequality, debt, deficits, austerity proposals, high unemployment, and unsympathetic fantasies of how the poor really live abound in the vacuum of paralyzed and polarized politics and opinion? Were the demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin, just the beginning?
“It no longer feels that we live in a civilized country,” the notable wrote. Civilized–as in harmonious, caring, collaborative, and compassionate? Or civilized–as in condemning, apathetic, uncaring, ruthless, and dependent on the power of police? What kind of civilization are we talking about?
The latter approach arrogant approach of the presumed superiors is implicit in the echoes left by the first notable’s fantasy of the poor living quite well, thank you, with their TV’s and air conditioning in their “many of them in good repair” housing units. Survival of the fittest right!
The latter approach is also implicit in the second notables comment: “Fear. Debilitating fear. The country held to ransom by feckless youths…. The cause of the riots is the looters; opportunistic, greedy, arrogant and amoral young criminals who believe that they have the right to steal, burn, and destroy other people’s property. There were no extenuating circumstances, no excuses.”
Violence is not to be sanctioned. That should be clear to all at all times and in every circumstance. Violence is a lose-lose! Yet there are always extenuating circumstances to be seen by anyone with open eyes, and a caring heart; and there are various kinds of violence.
There is the violence of being discharged from your job, from having your paycheck taken away, from having your savings evaporate due to the greed of bubble-building-and-bursting insiders. These are distant and cold evil kinds of violence that the powerful can perpetrate on the powerless with impunity.
There is the violence of being bullied by the rich and strong. There is the violence of condescension and the violence of misrepresentation (as in the notables discussion of how well the poor live above).
There is the violence of presumed social and intellectual superiority, the violence of bullying, the violence of Social Darwinism, and the violence of Creative Destruction. There is the violence of those who believe that Thomas Hobbes was more of a prophet than those who spread messages of truth, compassion, peace, and communal responsibility.
There are the violent ones in the streets where they dare to go to burn and loot when no other course seems to be working in their “civilized” society. And there are the other violent who created the conditions that cause the rioters to do what they do. And, most likely, there is much more such violence coming because the rioters are more empowered than ever today and more connected, and the causes that motivate them are more deeply entrenched.
Feckless? The word means unthinking and irresponsible. Clearly, there are many more feckless among us than just those rioting in the streets. But, hey, why look in a mirror when it’s so much more entertaining to look at your telly? There they are, and they’re burning things; there you are smugly blaming them for their feckless behavior without an ounce of any sense of connection. That too is—feckless.
But the passive feckless must go one step further. They must blame. They must point to a warped sense of context, ergo: “The context was two-fold: first, decades of failed social, educational, family and microeconomic policies, which means that a large chuck of the UK has become aliented from mainstream society, culturally impoverished, bereft of role models, permanently workless and trapped and dependent on welfare or the shadow economy.
“For this the establishment and the dominant politically correct ideology are to blame: they deemed it acceptable to permanently check welfare money at sink estates, claiming victory over material poverty, regardless of the wider consequences, in return for acquiring a clean conscience.”
Here we have it, the reason why The Wall Street Journal printed this diatribe as a “quotable.” It attacks “politically correct ideology” (whatever that is). What jumps out more specifically is “welfare money at sink estates.”
Can we finally agree that no one likes “welfare money,” not those whose taxes pay for it, and not those who have to “beg” for and depend on it? And, will we ever agree that there are circumstances where welfare money is required to sustain the survival of the weakest?
No one that I know of has claimed victory over poverty, except perhaps those too remote from reality who are severely cocoon-bound in prejudice. No one that I know of has a clean conscience, except those who deny and distance themselves from the reality of need, or, as the notable notes, the failed policies of society’s guides.
People need to feel as though they are needed. They need jobs. They need opportunities to contribute. And people need to feel secure. This is Psychology 101. Communities need balance, heterogeneous and harmonious balance. And both individuals and communities need mutual support, collaboration, trust, and unselfishness. These are the hallmarks of true civilization.
What we’ve been given by quotable notables in The Wall Street Journal is, instead, finger-pointing, blaming, condescension, and misdirection. Without such misdirection the real culprits, causes, inequities, and fecklessness might come to light. And that light will be shining at levels of income and wealth higher than the “officially” poor.
Meanwhile dispense with the notion that the poor are doing just fine. Walk among them with your eyes (and heart) open. Or, prepare for more riots and upward pressure on the police and prison budgets. It’s only going to get worse.
Notable & Quotable, The Wall Street Journal, August 12, 2011.
Notable & Quotable, The Wall Street Journal,July 26, 2011.