Poverty: An American Epidemic

It seems hardly a day goes by without another news story about the 1%, the healthcare crisis or picketing laborers. The truth is that a shocking number of Americans are living at or below the poverty line.

By the Numbers

According to U.S. Census data from 2012

  • Nearly 46.5 million people are living in poverty, up from 46.2 million in 2011;
  • 18.9 million are white non-Hispanic, 13.6 million are Hispanic, 10.9 million are Black/African-American, and 1.9 million are Asian;
  • More than 16 million children (under age 18) live in poverty.

Causes

PovertyAnalysts claim that we’re out of the Great Recession. Unfortunately, that news hasn’t made it down to the working class. Corporate spending may be increasing, but wages – and opportunities to earn wages – are not.

The unemployment rate for October, 2013 stood at 7.3%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While that is significantly better than the 10% reported for October, 2009 there are still concerns. The numbers presumably show improvement as discouraged and disillusioned workers simply drop out of the work force.

Additionally, the CPS Employment Change shows an unstable employment trend with 136,554,000 million jobs in the U.S. in October of 2013 compared to 129,614,000 jobs during October, 2009. Gaining 6.9 million jobs over the course of 4 years, when we’re said to be in a recovery, does not appear to be enough for poverty-stricken families to recover.

Even those who are employed and work full-time, year-round jobs are not necessarily out of the woods. If, for example, we take a family of four – two parents and two children – that family needs to earn more than $23,550 per year to be above the poverty line. The Federal Minimum Wage is $7.25. A full-time worker, at 2080 hours per year, would gross $15,080. If one spouse is unable to work – or if it’s a single parent household – there’s no way for this family to climb out of poverty on minimum wage. In other words, minimum wage is not a living wage.

The average CEO makes 204 times that of the average worker. That is up 20% since 2009. Eight of the S&P’s companies showed even more drastic numbers. J.C Penney Co., Abercrombie & Fitch Co, Simon Property Group Inc., Oracle Corp, Starbucks Corp, CBS Corp, Ralph Lauren Corp and Nike Inc’s CEO’s all made at least 1,000 times as much as the average worker in the companies. So, although CEO’s and the companies themselves are recovering from the recession, the average worker is not. (Bloomberg) And so the canyon between those who “have” and those who “have not” widens.

Result

There is a growing disparity and a sense of foul play among the worker bees – and those who would like to be worker bees. Even Russell Brand, famous actor and comedian, has been touting a revolution as seen on BBC’s Newsnight. Workers are becoming increasingly disillusioned and turning to social support apparatus such as social security disability among other services as a means of survival.

Approximately 47 million Americans receive a form of food stamps. More than 22 million Americans under the age of 65 are receiving Social Security, Supplemental Security Income or both.

If that isn’t an epidemic…

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About the author:  Nik Donovic resides in the Southwest and enjoys the simpler things in life, like spending time with friends and family or hiking on a warm and clear day. Though Nik believes life can be a bit materialistic at times, being simple about things is kind of his  mantra. He would, ideally, like nothing more than to settle down on a tropical island somewhere and just live life day by day, but it seems that it’s impossible. For now.