Thursday, September 15, 2011

Soaring Poverty Casts Spotlight on ‘Lost Decade’
Published: September 13, 2011 New York Times

The aforementioned article spells it all out. The Lost Decade is a good description for the reality most Americans face today. 1 in 6 of us now live officially in poverty. That's about 47 million people. Very close to the number with no health care. Lost...
What happened along the way. 40 years ago I became a VISTA Volunteer after reading Michael Harrington's book The Other America and seeing the CBS news documentary Hunger in America. Back then the median income was well below $10,000, today the poverty line is about $22,000. Do the math and see how a family of four can live on 22k in the U.S. today.
I particularly like the use of the term "Lost" because poverty largely remains invisible. People expect that because someone wears an expensive pair of shoes or has a fancy electronic device that they aren't poor. They often argue that 47 million Americans can't possibly live in poverty because of the epidemic of obesity in this country. They conveniently forget the relationship between junk food and the poor. The price of food vis a vis the quality of that food. Cast in point, I bought 3 beautiful peaches at my local farmer's market today for $5. Used to be the price of a bag full.
If poverty goes unnoticed, it is also a double edged sword. In my view, one of the reasons that this problems has worsened since my days as a "poverty warrior" in VISTA (that's the domestic Peace Corps for any younger readers...called Americorps today)is that there is another kind of poverty...a poverty of the will. Our Congress is gridlocked. Our sense of self as a nation is in question. We are constantly bombarded with messages to consume, with very little means to do so. No wonder poor people possess some of the trappings of our material could they not?
So what am I saying? That the U.S. is no longer a great country? You tell me.
Here's a little game we can play. In the next year, we'll be subjected to numerous political discussions and debates. We'll hear the candidates of all perspectives continually refer to the U.S. as the "greatest nation" of the face of the globe. As my grandfather would say, "You can set your watch on that." But who will question that? Who will take exception to this perception? Can a country with millions of people in poverty and a gap in wealth wider than ever be the greatest? For that matter, why must one nation be better? Therein lies the problem.

We are waiting for the next duel leader. A later-day FDR, if you will. Someone who can be a nurturing father figure, a strong mother. Studs Terkel in his wonderful oral history Working concluded that "your work is your identity." If our nation isn't working, who are we?

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