Most of the time, when we hear the word poverty, it conjures up images of third world countries, of malnourished children whose ribs prominently stick out of emaciated bodies. But we don’t need to look that far away to see the effects of poverty. It’s right here at home.
In the latest statistics which summarize the data from 2010, 17.2 million households are considered to be food insecure. That’s 14.5% of the households in the US. To make this a little more concrete, it’s one in seven households. But that doesn’t mean you can look down the street and every seventh house is having trouble feeding their family. Instead, these households tend to be centralized, creating pockets of insecurity. But the scary part of this number is that it is the highest total number of households facing food insecurity ever recorded in the US.
6.7 million households (about 5.4% of American households) had very low food security, meaning they do not have the resources to ensure they will get adequate meals on a daily basis. They may have to reduce their intake, skip meals, and normal eating habits are disrupted. Of these, 3.9 million households were households with children.
In terms of poverty, there are now over 46 million people below the poverty line, and of these 2.6 million fell below that line in the last year alone. This is the highest level in 52 years, as long as this data has been published. And it isn’t likely to get better. Middle class median household incomes fell to the lowest point since 1996. For the median to fall, more people have to be making less than the median. Of the 46 million below the poverty line, 20.5 million are considered to be in deep poverty, where their household income is less than half of the defined poverty line. That means 20.5 million people have a household income of less than $11,000 per year for a family of four.
Children are especially casualties in this area. 22% of children live in poverty. When you see those commercials of undernourished kids in third world countries, remember that here at home, more than 1 in 5 kids live in poverty and may face significant problems with getting enough to eat. Right here.
How did we get to this condition, where large segments of Americans have dropped into a state of poverty? There are a number of reasons, mainly economical.
The first is access to jobs. As the economy has foundered, so have job opportunities. When businesses were starting to feel a pinch from flagging sales, they laid off workers or stopped hiring. But in recent months, corporations have been showing record profits, yet have done little rehiring. They are reaping the rewards of lower payroll requirements, while asking their remaining employees to work longer and longer hours rather than hire more people.
Some companies that have begun to rehire are doing so at a much lower wage, offering the lowest amount of pay they can, knowing there is a glut of workers and a scarcity of jobs. The minimum wage comes into play here as well. The poverty level for a family of four is just shy of $22,000, but a worker at a full-time job that pays only minimum wage will only bring home $15,000, 31% below the poverty line.
Another issue that exacerbates the problem is that these numbers are based on national averages, not local conditions. For example, someone in Bismarck, ND getting 15,000 a year might pay $740 a month in rent for an apartment. In Orange County, CA - the non-TV show portions – that same apartment is more than $1,600 a month in rent. And in Mobile, AL, that rent is only about $600 a month. Yet the classification for each of these areas in terms of poverty is exactly the same. That reflects in assistance to these folks, such as food stamps. The level for receiving food stamps is equal for all, but the higher cost of living areas will not receive more money to help.
At some point, our caring for those in need has fallen by the wayside, and our focus has turned to ourselves. It’s human nature, of course, to put our attention on ourselves first, but there seems to be less and less attention on the plight of others. Regardless of how you feel about “welfare”, public assistance to those in need, food stamps, Social Security or any of the other “safety nets” that we have created over the last six to seven decades, is it really so difficult to understand that for a growing number of people, “get a job” or “they’re just lazy” isn’t an adequate or even accurate response.
We see these commercials, usually late at night on TV when we can’t sleep, asking for a dollar a day to help those in other countries. Perhaps, just perhaps, we should give a dollar a day to help those in need right here at home.