Archived: Poverty on the March


In our land,
One thing is sure;
Life is grisly,
If you’re poor.

One nice thing about subsidizing the rich is that there are so few of them. Just bail out a clutch of banks and insurance companies and the monied class will take it from there. No oversight necessary. Yes, shameful bonuses will keep getting paid and a lot of lower level workers may get dumped, but the Wall Street apparatus will keep working. Perhaps it won’t offer many new loans anymore, but at least it won’t call in the old ones.

The auto industry is a tidy package too, but since it doesn’t contribute nearly as heavily to political campaigns as do the banks, it gets smaller bucks at bailout time. And structurally, it’s even simpler. Just charge up the Big Three and an automatic distribution system cranks into action sending all those rescue funds wherever they’re supposed to go. Of course, the executives, as with the banks, take their tribute off the top.

The poor, naturally, are different. They have no executives, which is not altogether a bad thing. But neither is there anyone to impose a sense of urgency on Washington. Meanwhile, with the recession continually bringing out more needy folks but ever fewer donations, food banks are on starvation rations. Food stamps too are in trouble. Their occasional increases in allocation per family come by legislation, maybe annually, maybe not. There are no high-profile public hearings with poverty moguls, which for other classes can lead to multi-billion dollar emergency appropriations.

No, the 30 million Americans on food stamps will simply have to stretch out their rice and beans a little further, and our 10 million additional hungry citizens who don’t qualify for stamps can often find nutritious stuff in restaurant dumpsters. Since those groups are already living at the bottom of the barrel, we don’t worry much about their destitution dragging other economic sectors down with them. Let ’em eat corn syrup.

Which is exactly what they do. Corn syrup-based processed foods are the cheapest thing we’ve got going, so the poor eat them in profusion. This in turn has led to the obesity epidemic, strongest in our poorest states – Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.

And naturally, all these stresses are worsening daily as the recession ups the toll of unemployment. That rate is now over 6.5 percent, using America’s bizarre counting method. Were we to utilize Europe’s more straightforward formula, we would probably have reached 10 percent by now. But in America, if you’ve given up looking for work or have grasped some dismal part-time job in order to stay alive, you don’t count.

Indeed, in the United States if you’re really poor you don’t count for much at all. Ever since Bill Clinton muscled through “welfare reform” there has been an increase of suffering among the impoverished. Aid for them has become more bureaucratically scattered than ever. Other than in central cities, you often need a car just to get around to the various agency offices, and holding a job, lousy as it may be, becomes nearly impossible. No sick days allowed either.

Aid comes easier if you’re rich. Tax breaks flow without you really having to do anything. Congress simply rescues some industries from collapse because of their contributions to campaigns. Others receive friendly operating subsidies. They don’t have to drive anywhere. Their lobbyists do that.

But if your local homeless shelter overflows, or your food bank runs out, or you can’t afford health insurance, sorry pal. There will be no special session of Congress or the legislature, no state of emergency called by the governor, no convoy of National Guard trucks bringing rations. Homeland Security protects us from fire, flood, storm, terror and immigrants, but not from poverty.

Nor does Congress seem awfully concerned. Its slogan appears to be, based on the old days of the Barbary pirates, “Billions for defense, but not one cent for hunger!”

Columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. Distributed by

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