A shocking 37 million Americans live in poverty. That is 12.7 per cent of the population — the highest percentage in the developed world. They are found from the hills of Kentucky to Detroit’s streets, from the Deep South of Louisiana to the heartland of Oklahoma. Each year since 2001 their number has grown.
Under President George W Bush an extra 5.4 million have slipped below the poverty line. Yet they are not a story of the unemployed or the destitute. Most have jobs. Many have two. Amos Lumpkins has work and his children go to school. But the economy, stripped of worker benefits like healthcare, is having trouble providing good wages.
Even families with two working parents are often one slice of bad luck – a medical bill or factory closure – away from disaster. The minimum wage of $5.15 (£2.95) an hour has not risen since 1997 and, adjusted for inflation, is at its lowest since 1956. The gap between the haves and the have-nots looms wider than ever. Faced with rising poverty rates, Bush’s trillion-dollar federal budget recently raised massive amounts of defence spending for the war in Iraq and slashed billions from welfare programmes.
Dealing with poverty is not a viable political issue in America. It jars with a cultural sense that the poor bring things upon themselves and that every American is born with the same chances in life. It also runs counter to the strong anti-government current in modern American politics.
c.f. The Onion, which makes the same point rather more briefly.