American poverty a huge problem

Nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty.

Last week, a McClatchy newspapers analysis of the 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. The analysis also found that the number of severely poor Americans from 2000 to 2005 grew by 26 percent. There is no reason that such a vast number of people should experience such suffering at the hands of the richest country in the world.

The plight of the severely poor is a distressing occurrence which coincides directly with an unusual economic expansion. Worker productivity has increased dramatically since 2001, but wages and job growth have lagged behind. Also, the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries of the majority of the American public. This helps explain why the median household income for working-age families has fallen for five consecutive years.

The analysis also contains significant local implications as Minnesota’s severe-poverty population was found to have increased 62 percent, the fastest increase in the nation. Experts attribute Minnesota’s rapid increase to several factors, including cutbacks in the social safety net and a continued flow of international refugees.

We often fool ourselves to think that as a country we have advanced beyond such ‘common’ and ‘third world’ problems as poverty and unemployment, but we are tragically mistaken. At the moment, 43 percent of the nation’s 37 million poor people are living in deep poverty, the highest rate since at least 1975. It is time for Americans to fix their gaze on enduring problems of poverty, race and class that have escaped their attention for too long.

One would have hoped that after Hurricane Katrina, as a nation we would have stripped away the old evasions and neglect. However, even the sight of the United States with a striking black eye didn’t incite action, as we have taken no real progressive steps in addressing our domestic problems. It is time for politicians to take a more vested interest in the domestic realities of our country. As the gulf between the nation’s ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ continues to widen, immediate action is imperative.