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Forum Post: Poverty is rising and visible on US streets

Posted 7 years ago on Nov. 27, 2012, 1:39 p.m. EST by Auditor (-16)
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Land of the free, home of the brave, is how the Star Spangled Banner, the national anthem of the US, describes the country it sings over. After travelling for four weeks through its north-eastern cities it is clear that while some may be brave, many are a long financial way from being free.

Pittsburgh is a picturesque city set at the fork of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers and is a fitting place to get a feel for the American dream. It boasts clean cities, beautiful suburbs, high-rise buildings plated in glass and world-class conference facilities.

But even here I am surprised to have to walk through the sleeping bags of the homeless on the pavement outside a church. In Chicago a kind elderly gentleman asks me the time as a way of opening conversation before asking if I might have a dollar to help him get into the night shelter.

While in New York a subway station that I used daily echoed with the words of a man seated at the end of the platform; “God bless, please help, I’m hungry”.

His image of hunger was very different to the one we are accustomed to in South Africa. He was severely overweight and needed help to stand as his begging shift came to an end.

Thirty-five percent of Americans are obese and for most it is not a sign of opulence but rather of poverty. A 1.3kg bag of apples costs between $3 (R26.30) and $4 and a 900g bag of carrots sells for about $1.50. A McDonald’s burger however, can be picked up immediately for just $1 plus tax.

In the Bronx a Grade 1 teacher sits and talks about the challenges of her job. Her main concern is that two-thirds of her students spend the night in shelters. They are forced to exit by 6am and frequently arrive at school having not had enough rest to function properly throughout the day.

It is no surprise that job creation formed such a pivotal part of the $6 billion (R53bn) 2012 election campaign. Unemployment this year has been reported at 7.9 percent, double what it was in 2007.

Studies have shown the longer a person is unemployed the harder it becomes for them to get a job with a significant decrease in opportunity occurring after 27 weeks of unemployment. The US Department of Labour reports that the median average for duration of unemployment is 19.7 weeks and more than 5 million people have not had jobs in more than 27 weeks.

Sunday was Veteran’s Day in the US. The National Football League designated 32 of their Sunday games as a salute to those who had served in the military and for every point scored they donated $100 to non-profit organisations that support veterans. These organisations are funded through charity and help returning soldiers to reintegrate into society, often with a focus on education and job-seeking.

While private donors rally support to help veterans, the US government designated $711bn of their 2012 budget to the military. Only $313bn more and it would equate to the military spend of the rest of the world combined.

The US suffers from perverse misallocation of spending. People speak gleefully abut “the Clinton years” as a time when they could spend recklessly and indeed it was a period when the US could look beyond their borders.

But the tables have turned. With poverty reported at 15 percent, and visible in the streets, President Barack Obama’s administration will need to change its strategies to support the nation from within, or watch as it slowly implodes.

Pierre Heistein is the convener of UCT’s Applied Economics for Smart Decision-Making course



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[-] 3 points by shadz66 (19985) 7 years ago

"Despite Election Victories, Escalating Poverty and Inequality Remain Largely Ignored", by Ted Morgan :

"Issues of class and economic inequality will only make it onto the nation's political agenda if people come together around their shared grievances to build a mass-based political movement. This means building bridges across the divides that have long been inflamed by right-wing rhetoric. Perhaps, following the lead of organizers in the Occupy movement, this solidarity can be expedited by making debt a centerpiece of organizing - bringing together those who bear the burdens of student debt, homeowner debt, credit card debt, medical debt, and even those populations who are losing out because local governing bodies are weighed down by municipal debt. That's a lot of people on whom the 1% has been profiteering."

fiat lux ...

[-] 3 points by beautifulworld (23286) 7 years ago

Good post. Poverty is a huge and growing problem. And, don't forget, that many are "working" poor, exploited by greedy employers who refuse to share the profits with the workers in a humane way, as well as exploited by a government that is also too greedy and morally weak to ensure that the workers are paid a wage they can live a decent life on.

Also, there has been plenty of discussion about poverty here. For instance a quick search for forum posts with the word "poverty" gives you all of these threads:


In addition, many other topics relate to poverty because poverty is really a symptom of much bigger issues that need to be addressed.

[-] -3 points by richardkentgates (3269) 7 years ago

Just can't understand why poverty means so little to the supporters on this forum. It's probably because they aren't supporters at all but rather frauds attempting to kettle the conversation into a meaningless abyss of blather and fluff in order to render the forum an echo chamber of noise.

[-] 0 points by SteveKJR1 (8) 7 years ago

It's not that "poverty means so little to those on this forum" as much as they are concerned about what the government is doing to create this poverty.

Four years ago Obama preached "Change". Everyone blames the republicans because "change" didn't happen. Well they weren't the ones who promised change.

Now we have the same person in office preaching "change" with the same people running the House and Senate. And what's stupid about the people in this country is they voted for the same person to get them out of the current situation.

What does that tell you about the people of this country - for that reason do you really expect people to be concerned about people in poverty when all they are concerned about is themselves.

Look at how much money was spent on Black Friday in the wally world stores when there were pickiting outside - do you really think they cared about the picketers - no. All they were concerned about is buying more chinese crap and complaining about not having a job.

No wonder 49 million people are in poverty - 5000 purchases a second as verified by wally world. Says a lot about todays society - and just who were these people - mostly younger people who have no concerns about anything but themselves.

I have a problem with that when they are the ones who want to take away from the rich to give to those who they feel are "less fortunate".

[-] -1 points by richardkentgates (3269) 7 years ago

Nobody on this forum aside from myself is addressing the cause. Every source of information out there that talks about income inequality points to the gap between inflation and wages. That is the cause, that is the issue. There is no mystery, appointing blame to party and bullshit about windmills is not addressing cause. It's pandering to emotion as a way to suppress discussion about the causes.

[-] 1 points by elf3 (4163) 7 years ago