Saturday, August 04, 2012
While President Obama and Gov. Romney battle for the hearts and minds of the middle class this election season, there's a huge swath of Americans that are largely ignored. It's the poor, and their ranks are growing.
According to a recent survey by The Associated Press, the number of Americans living at or below the poverty line will reach its highest point since President Johnson made his famous declaration of war on poverty in 1964.
Close to 16 percent of Americans now live at or below the poverty line. For a family of four, that's 23,000 a year. On top of that, 100 million of us — one out of three Americans — manage to survive on a household income barely twice that amount. How is this poverty crisis happening?
'I've Never Seen Anything As Bad As Now'
Across the nation, food banks are reporting giant spikes in demand. The food pantry in Webster Springs, W.Va., used to serve 30 families a month just three years ago. Today, 150 families in that county — a county of just 9,000 people — depend on the food pantry run by Catholic Charities.
This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.
- President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union address
Webster Springs is a hard-hit area. Two coal mines have closed down there in the past year. The median income is around $20,000. Yet the crisis is also taking place right in our nation's capital.
At the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., forklifts move huge pallets of food around this giant warehouse. This year, they expect to give out 33 million pounds of food — a record. Close to 700,000 people in the region are now at risk of going hungry.
"In my lifetime, I've never seen anything as bad as now," says Lynn Brantley, who runs the facility. She's been working with food pantries for 4 decades and describes what's happening today as a hunger crisis. "It's growing into the middle class."
Who Is Poor?
There is increasing overlap between those who used to be firmly in the middle class and those who are poor. Most Americans who are poor are still white, but that's also changing, says Angela Blackwell, who runs PolicyLink, a research and advocacy organization that focuses on poverty.
"The face of poverty for the nation has changed from being white to being black and Latino," she says. "That's made a difference, too, because when people thought of poverty as being white and elderly there was more general sympathy in the country and more commitment to do something about it."
It's estimated that the percentage of Americans living in poverty will increase to 15.7 percent this year, the highest in 50 years. "That shocking statistic really only represents the people who live below the official poverty level," Blackwell says. "But you have twice that number [of] people who are living near poverty."
Low-Wage Jobs Keep Incomes Low
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan delivered a State of the Union address in which he declared that the War on Poverty had failed. Now, with the poverty rate in America expected to reach its highest rate since 1965, it looks like Reagan may have been right.
My friends, some years ago, the federal government declared war on poverty, and poverty won. Today, the federal government has 59 major welfare programs and spends more than $100 billion a year on them. What has all this money done?
- President Ronald Reagan, 1988 State of the Union address
Not so, says Peter Edelman, a professor at Georgetown University and an expert on poverty, but, he says, there is a lot to worry about.
"One reason is we're still in a recession," Edelman says. "We've had a change in our economy over the last 40 years that has produced a flood of low-wage jobs."
One half of all jobs in the U.S. today now pay less than $35,000 a year. Adjusted for inflation, that's one of the lowest rates for American workers in five decades.
There's a common perception that somebody who's poor or living below the poverty level is lazy or simply living off government handouts. Edelman says the actual average poor person is working.
"And working as hard as she or he possibly can," he says. "And particularly in the recession, not able to get work or steady work. There are certainly people who make bad choices, but the fundamental question in our economy is the number of people who are doing absolutely everything they can to support their families — and they just can't make it."
Some Battles Won, But Threats Loom
Back when LBJ declared his war on poverty, being poor looked very different than it does today. Traveling in Mississippi with Robert Kennedy in 1967, Edelman saw children with bloated bellies and sores that wouldn't heal. There was real hunger, and real malnutrition.
"The food stamp program is a tremendous success," he says. "But since that time, it turns out, that children are the poorest age group in our country because their families — typically single moms trying to make it — can't do so because of this flood of low-wage work that we have."
Many economists say that when the economy does recover, a lot of the jobs that were lost won't be coming back. That suggests the possibility of significantly high unemployment for a long time — maybe even a permanently large class of Americans that live in poverty. Blackwell says we can act to prevent that future. "And it's not rocket science."
"We know now that by 2018, 45 percent of all jobs in this nation will require at least an associate's degree," she says. "We could invest in the system of training — particularly focusing on community colleges and preparing people to go to 4-year institutions and improving our high school education."
"We actually have extraordinary infrastructure in this country, from the manufacturing base we once had," she continues. "We need to retool it, we need to refit it, we need to make sure that it's ready for the kind of advanced manufacturing that we're seeing develop in other countries."
(Via NPR Topics: News)
LONDON – Michael Phelps stepped out of an Olympic pool for the final time on Saturday night, but not before earning one last gold medal.
Phelps swam the butterfly leg as the United States won the 400-meter medley relay at the London Aquatic Centre. The winning time of 3 minutes 29.35 seconds missed tying the Olympic record by a hundredth of a second, but Phelps did not seem to care. He waited with his teammates Matt Grevers and Brendan Hansen for the relay’s final swimmer, the freestyler Nathan Adrian, to complete the race, then wrapped all three in a hug.
The medal was Phelps’s 22nd over all, the most by any Olympian; his 18th gold; and his 6th in London. Phelps’s week has been something of a farewell tour, marked at different times by sadness or smiles, memories and melancholy. He has seemed to soften around the edges, letting people into a life so long closed to outsiders as he pursued swimming history, but he never lost his edge.
Taking over after Hansen’s breaststroke leg Saturday, he dove into the pool with the United States in second place and clambered out with the Americans safely back in the lead. Japan won the silver in 3:31.26, holding off Australia.
Just another swim. Just another gold.
U.S. Women Set World Record in Medley
With a gold medalist swimming every leg, the United States set a world record in the women’s 400-meter medley relay to cap a dominant Games for American women.
Missy Franklin, Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer and Allison Schmitt – all of whom have won multiple medals in London – finished in 3 minutes 52.05 seconds, breaking the mark set three years ago by a Chinese team.
Franklin, who won the 100- and 200-meter backstroke golds, challenged the American record in the opening leg before Soni – the 200 breaststroke champion – widened it. Vollmer got the Americans under world-record pace in the butterfly leg and Schmitt, who replaced Jessica Hardy on the relay team, steamed home in the freestyle.
The four Americans in the race combined to win 16 medals. The United States medaled in 13 of 16 women’s events over all, winning eight of them.
After False Start Scare, Sun Breaks World Record
It was the best do-over of the London Games.
Overcoming an apparent false start that could have led to his disqualification, Sun Yang of China climbed out of the pool, gathered himself, dove back in and smashed his world record in the 1,500-meter freestyle. Sun’s time of 14 minutes 31.02 seconds was more than three seconds faster than the record he set at the world championships in Shanghai last year.
Ryan Cochrane of Canada won the silver, but finished more than eight seconds behind Sun in 14:39.63. Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia, the defending Olympic champion, took the bronze.
Most in the London Aquatics Centre expected the 20-year-old Sun to win the gold; he was the world champion in the event, and had earlier taken gold in the 400 freestyle in this meet. That was why his jumping the gun in the 1,500 final – an unnecessary risk in a race that lasts more than 15 minutes – left the crowd murmuring in surprise.
Officials made no move to remove him from the race, however, and after a brief delay – and a warning to the crowd for silence at the start — he and the rest of the field returned to the blocks.
From there it was no contest. At 6 feet 6 inches, and with arms like an N.B.A. shotblocker and paddles for hands, Sun glided through the water with ease, taking as many as 10 fewer strokes on each lap as Cochrane and Mellouli and another prerace favorite, Tae-Hwan Park of South Korea, struggled in vain to keep pace.
Coasting for most of the race, Sun turned up his kick in the final 100 meters, churning the water in his wake like a motorboat engine. When he got to the wall he sat atop the lane rope and pounded the water with his fists. His celebration soaked the legs of the lane judges behind him until the moment seemed to hit him and he suddenly stopped, sank back into his lane and dissolved into tears.
Double for Dutchwoman
Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands completed swimming’s sprint double, adding the 50-meter freestyle gold medal to the one she won in the 100 less than 24 hours earlier.
Kromowidjojo, 21, set an Olympic record in each swim. Her time in the 50 of 24.05 seconds broke the mark set by the defending champion, Britta Steffen of Germany, who finished fourth in Saturday’s race.
Aliaksandra Herasimenia of Belarus, who took silver behind Kromowidjojo in the 100, did the same in the 50, finishing in 24.28. Marleen Veldhuis of the Netherlands was third in 24.39.
(Via NYT > Home Page)