Sunday, March 18, 2012

Revisiting Poverty in America

During this contemporary era of intense income and wealth inequality in America  -- when the character of a person is determined by the size of his or her bank account -- the impoverished people living among us are often invisible.  These impoverished Americans are viewed as being the 'other America,' and the article highlighted in this post provides a look back at the origin of the concept of the 'other America.'

In his last State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan lampooned and ridiculed the nation's efforts to minimize poverty and the effects of poverty. Below is a passage from that speech.

My friends, some years ago, the Federal Government declared war on poverty, and poverty won. [Laughter] 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? Well, too often it has only made poverty harder to escape. Federal welfare programs have created a massive social problem. With the best of intentions, government created a poverty trap that wreaks havoc on the very support system the poor need most to lift themselves out of poverty: the family. Dependency has become the one enduring heirloom, passed from one generation to the next, of too many fragmented families.
Now, over 20 years later, we find ourselves worse off with a nearly complete elimination of programs that grew out of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty.  In the meantime, the One Percent have done extremely well financially while the 99 Percent have stood still with stagnant wages and a anti-middle-class tax code. And, the people of the 'other America' were invisible to most of us.

However, Barbara Ehrenreich stayed focus on the effects of the Reagan "revolution" on America's poor and middle and working classes and she wrote several books on the subject about the hardships of America's middle and working classes.  Ms. Ehrenreich's article, cited below, offers a fresh look at poverty and hardship in America while also reviewing Michael Harrington's book The Other America -- the book that got us to see the invisible Americans who lived in the 'other America.'

Below is a passage from Ms. Ehrenreich's article.

Harrington’s book jolted a nation that then prided itself on its classlessness and even fretted about the spirit-sapping effects of “too much affluence.” He estimated that one quarter of the population lived in poverty -- inner-city blacks, Appalachian whites, farm workers, and elderly Americans among them. We could no longer boast, as President Nixon had done in his “kitchen debate” with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow just three years earlier, about the splendors of American capitalism.
To read Ms. Ehrenreich's article, please follow the enclosed link.

Ehrenreich, Barbara. "Tomgram: Barbara Ehrenreich, American Poverty, 50 Years Later." TomDispatch 15 March, 2012: online edition.

Related information:

Economic Results of Reaganomics.

President Ronald Reagan's 1988 State of the Union Address.

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