American Poverty is on the Rise
1 year ago
Why history explains the $107,772 average wealth gap between black and white Americans
America was clobbered over the head with more bad news this month when the Census reported that the domestic poverty rate, and deep poverty rates, have reached record highs. Over 44 million Americans are living below the poverty rate -- $11,139 for one person, and $25,625 for a family of four -- and one out every seven Americans are poor.
One out of five children live in poverty, while one out of six is being served by at least one government anti-poverty program. At 14.3%, these are the highest poverty levels since 1994, George W. Bush’s first term.
Republicans have immediately and almost universally laid the blame in a neat package at President Obama's doorstep. They argued that the stimulus package failed and other Obama programs created a monumental drag on the economy. They have also argued that Obama's policies overtax job creators, the otherwise most wealthy Americans. Finally, they argue that his policies have stymied job and wealth growth in the middle class and in low-income communities.
They are proven wrong, however, by the fact that the Census numbers are from 2009. Obama, had not been in office long enough to generate policies sufficient to make such a seismic shift in the economy. It is more accurate that the report is yet another indictment of Bush-era economic policies.
But regardless of who is to blame, it may be appropriate to visit a key question. Why are people poor?
Undoubtedly, depending on your party affiliation, you will answer differently. Conservatives consistently note American exceptionalism: Give individuals unregulated, unadulterated free roam, and they will achieve. As the cliche goes, individuals, without any help from the state, will pull themselves up into the upper echelons of success by their bootstraps.
Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a reliable progressive voice and defender of the impoverished and disenfranchised provided a counter argument: “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody -- a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns -- bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”