Poverty in the USA

The US Conference of Mayors’ 23-city Hunger and Homelessness Survey, released in late December shows that the number of homeless and hungry people in the US rose again in 2007 (pdf available here ).

This report documents the problem of hunger and homelessness during the period of November 1, 2006 through October 31, 2007 based on information provided by the following U.S. cities: Boston, MA; Charleston, SC; Charlotte, SC; Chicago, IL; Cleveland, OH; Denver, CO; Des Moines, IA; Detroit, MI; Kansas City, MO; Los Angeles, CA; Louisville, KY; Miami, FL; Nashville, TN; Philadelphia, PA; Phoenix, AZ; Portland, OR; Providence, RI; Salt Lake City, UT; San Francisco, CA; Santa Monica, CA; Seattle, WA; St. Paul, MN; and Trenton, NJ

Notably, the report cites high housing costs and the lack of affordable housing as a chief cause of homelessness in households with children, as well as a major cause of hunger. The survey also notes the recent spike in foreclosures, the increased cost of living in general and the increased cost of food as major causes of hunger in America. In other words – as in the US, as elsewhere on the planet, the golden rule applies can’t pay, can’t have. If you’re poor then you don’t constitute a market.

Unlike past reports, this year’s report contains individual profiles of hunger and homelessness for each city that participated in the 2007 survey, as well as contact information for service providers in those cities. Overall, cities reported that they are not able to meet the need for providing shelter for homeless persons. Indeed, twelve cities (52 percent) stated that they turn people away some or all of the time. And this in a land where there are millions of acres of vacant office space and hundreds of thousands of empty homes.

Additionally, cities reported a limited ability to meet the need for emergency food assistance. Across the survey cities, 17 percent of all people in need of food assistance and 15 percent of households with children are not receiving it. Nineteen cities expect demand for food assistance to increase in 2008. Again, this in a land that pays farmers to take land out of production and pays others to grow crops for bio-fuel production

Meanwhile, Information Clearing House today carries a story entitled Welcome to Third World USA.

The piece commences with a quote Paul Krugman that appeared in the New York Times, Feb. 27, 2006:

"What we're seeing (in the U.S.) isn't the rise of a fairly broad class of knowledge workers. Instead, we're seeing the rise of a narrow oligarchy: Income and wealth are becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small, privileged elite ... It's time to face up to the fact that rising inequality is driven by the giant income gains of a tiny elite, not the modest gains of college graduates."

Say the writers, commenting on the USA’s poor ranking in the last UN Human Development Index, which positions countries in terms of life expectancy, literacy, education and standard of living

“…the U.S. today has many more features in common with Third World status than Canada ever did back in the mid-1990s.

”What is usually meant by a Third World economy? A half-century ago, the term was associated with the economically underdeveloped countries of Africa, Asia, South America and Oceania. The common characteristics of these Third World countries were high levels of poverty, income inequality, high birth rates and an economic dependence upon the advanced countries. Third World countries were simply not as industrialized or technologically advanced as Western countries.

”But what are some of the distinguishing characteristics of contemporary Third World countries? They go beyond these nations' fiscal position or undue concentration on natural resource exports.

”The glaring features today include poverty, lack of democratic institutions, controlling oligarchies and the unequal distribution of income and wealth. In other words, the few enjoy a rich lifestyle while the many share subpar incomes and poverty.

"Another characteristic of Third World countries is that a major portion of their fiscal expenditures is allocated to the military. In many Third World countries, the military is controlled by an elite or a small collection of the wealthy.

"Finally, in many Third World countries one finds that leadership is passed from one generation to the next, often via a close relative.”

The sad fact is that if such findings, as listed above, were reported on every TV and in every paper in the US, come election time the workers would still be arguing over the merits of voting for the democrats or the repukes, failing to acknowledge that whichever party gets into power their first duty is to the master class, to ensure the profits keep rolling.

The ‘American dream’ exists alright, unfortunately for many it means the right to dream about not being on the streets or knowing where your next meal is coming from.

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