In 2010 the nation’s poverty rate was 15.1 percent or 46.2 million people doing without food, living on the streets or suffering a multitude of other challenges to their dignity. That’s a 14.3 percent increase over 2009 and you can bet that this increase includes many of those who are out of work due to the recent economic crisis. These are current figures from the Census Bureau.
There are some that have been in poverty for years; a disgrace. Others are simply homeless and happy on the street; also a disgrace that we allow it to happen. Child poverty rose from 20.7 percent to 22 percent; clearly the worse disgrace of all. For those age 65+ the numbers were basically unchanged at 9 percent, but also surging in 2009 during the economic downturn.
Median income was even down 2.3 percent to $49,445, and there are 49.9 million Americans without health insurance. Health reform was passed by a mixed Congress in 2010 but the major aspects of the legislation don’t take effect until 2014. One benefit was available last year and that allows young adults 26 and younger to obtain coverage from their parent’s health insurance.
There was some sunshine in media coverage from a local columnist, E.J. Montini, who writes for the Arizona Republic in Phoenix. Montini met a panhandler called Mr. Lucky on the street who asked him for change and the reporter gave up 57 cents, including two pennies.
Mr. Lucky treasured the pennies because he would place them where others could find them and experience the old saying: “Find a penny, pick it up, and all the day you’ll have good luck.” That’s why he was called Mr. Lucky. This man’s generosity flies in the face of Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer and the state Legislature refusing to extend federal unemployment benefits to the unemployed. On top of that, the Arizona Court of Appeals had to overturn a Phoenix ordnance prohibiting panhandling.
Crunching numbers in ethnic groups, Hispanics in poverty increased from 25.3 percent to 26.6 percent. Blacks, from 25.8 to 27.4. Whites from 9.4 to 9.9. Asians were flat at 12.1 percent. Mississippi had the highest rate of poor followed by Louisiana, D.C., Georgia, New Mexico and Arizona. A public policy professor at the University of Chicago says the worst may be yet to come due to the increased demand for food stamps this year and the significant numbers of those unemployed more than 26 weeks.
If the American economy continues to spiral down, and unemployment remains high, those affected will eventually come to the conclusion that their future might well be better off in a Social Democracy.