“The amount of poverty and suffering required for the emergence of a Rockefeller, and the amount of depravity that the accumulation of a fortune of such magnitude entails, are left out of the picture, and it is not always possible to make the people in general see this.”
- Che Guevara
Shortly after my recent article about the frightening state of the world’s children was posted, I received a request to narrow my focus to the good ol’ USA. In other words: why should all of us be occupyingfor America’s kids, too?
Wow…where do I begin?
Hmmm…I could start at birth and talk about the prevalence of toxins in breast milk or the dangerous vaccinations and pharmaceuticals imposed upon almost every child or the endless assault of pesticides, GMOs, additives, and other chemicals that have become part and parcel of the American way of life.
Perhaps I could shine a light on the car culture and point out how, for example, the leading cause of death for children aged 5 to 14 in New York City is pedestrian automobile accidents.
Each of those concepts (and many others) could—and just may—end up as a separate article. However, considering what passes for discourse these days, I think another approach is essential here.
Republicans grumble about welfare queens and Democrats somberly discuss “shared sacrifices” and, of course, there’s the callous Libertarian fantasy of an even playing field. So, I’ll eschew the poetics and stick—as much as possible—to the cold hard facts as we go directly to the heart of the American Dream façade.
This one goes out to all the willfully deluded and overly entitled souls who smugly maintain that low-income Americans are too lazy, stupid, or dishonest to earn enough money to pay their ever-mounting bills.
To follow is but a small taste of the insidious and escalating poverty here in the land of opportunity. (FYI: Primary source for ensuing statistics)
As it stands, the federal poverty level is absurdly and maliciously low: $22,050 a year for a family of four. Thus, the following numbers are inherently skewed as research has shown that such a family would need twice as much money simply to cover basic expenses.
So, when I tell you that 21% of all US children—15 million in all—live in families with incomes “below the federal poverty level,” a more useful and compassionate estimate would be 42% or 30 million.
With that crucial caveat in mind, here are some of the many reasons why we must #Occupy4USChildren:
- Children make up 26% of the US population, but are 39% of the people who live in poverty (the poverty rate is higher for children than any other age group)
- Every day, 2,660 children are born into poverty
- Children and families are the fastest growing group among the homeless, making up 40% of the homeless population
- One in 50 US children currently homeless
Poverty and Geography
- Mississippi and the District of Columbia have the highest rates of child poverty, both over 25%
- Fifteen other states (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia) have child poverty rates above 20%
- The South is the region with the highest rate of child poverty: 42% of Southern children live in low-income families
A quick side trip to my hometown of New York City, where I turn to Doug Henwood, who recently offered these sobering realities:
- The richest 10% of New Yorkers have 58% of total income
- The richest 5% have 49%
- The proverbial 1% has 34%
- The city’s median income is $28,213
- The average income of the top 1% is $2,247,515
- The income of the top 10% of New Yorkers is 582 times that of the poorest 10% (in Brazil, that ratio is 35 times)
By more general locale:
- 47% of kids in rural areas have low-income families
- Urban areas: 40%
- Suburbs: 30%
- The overall US poverty rate for white children is 11%
- Asian children: 13%
- Hispanic children: 31%
- Native American children 31%
- Black children: 34%
Poverty and Health
According a recent Columbia University study, poverty, defined as living below 200% of the United Stated Federal Poverty Level (FPL), was determined to take away 8.2 years of health, meaning poor people have 8.2 fewer years in which they are healthy than someone above 200% of the FPL.
In addition, children who struggle with hunger are:
- Sick more often, recover more slowly, and are more likely to be hospitalized
- More likely to experience headaches, stomachaches, colds, ear infections, and fatigue
- More susceptible to obesity and its harmful health consequences as children and as adults
- Predisposed children to emotional and behavioral difficulties, academic problems, and tend to be more aggressive and anxious
In 2006, researchers found: “Children in low-income families start off with higher levels of antisocial behavior than children from more advantaged households. And if the home remains poor as the children grow up, antisocial behavior becomes much worse over time compared to children living in households that are never poor or later move out of poverty.”
Disabilities—whether directly linked to poverty or not—leave American children vulnerable to a lifetime of financial difficulties. According to the US Census Bureau (2006), “Persons with a disability are likely to have limited opportunities to earn income and often have increased medical expenses. Disabilities among children and adults may affect the socioeconomic standing of entire families. It is estimated that over 40 million people in America have some level of disability, and many of these individuals live in poverty.”
Welfare Queens: Real and Imagined
I could go on with the stats but let’s instead stop for some perspective: Billions of dollars are spent to bail out the rich while 54% of our tax dollarsfunds a global reign of terror known as the US military. But thanks tocorporate propaganda, we’re programmed to ignore the vast and corrupt enterprise of corporate welfare and to falsely believe that the poor in America are lazy leeches, coddled by an enabling nanny state.
Contrary to such despite dishonest media imagery, 55% of children living in poor or low-income families have a parent who works full time, year around.
“What’s so hard is that a lot of families are working so hard,” Dr. Megan Sandel, associate professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston Medical Center’s Grow Clinic told ABC News. “They are working jobs. They are earning money and their dollars just don’t go far enough.”
Two of the big reasons why the number of US children living in poverty has jumped by nearly 20% since 2000: higher unemployment and foreclosures. Studies show that nearly 5.5 million children live in families that have lost homes to foreclosures and 8 million children live in families where at least one parent has lost a job.
Those children who manage to either survive or avoid such an oppressive economic plight are then left to navigate a fraudulent system in which it is increasingly difficult to earn a living wage and/or afford health insurance.
Schooling is no longer a guaranteed path towards even relative financial security. In addition, the total student debt now exceeds the total consumer debt and will pass $1 trillion in 2012.
Such a bleak scenario can only leave us wondering what’s left for the vast majority of humans who make up the future of this country. Perhaps such a musing helps to explain why so many young people volunteer to wage illegal and immoral wars and why
7,225,800 American adults were under correctional supervision (probation,parole, jail, or prison) in 2009.
“Do not waste your time on social questions. What is the matter with the poor is poverty; what is the matter with the rich is uselessness.”
- George Bernard Shaw
Let’s revisit a few details: Despite unfair and impractical US federal government standards for what qualifies as poverty, the numbers still remain staggering. Poverty has increased by 20% since 2000 and currently, 2,660 American children are born into poverty every single day.
Meanwhile, with help from a relentless corporate media, the general population is conditioned to remain oblivious to massive government subsidies for the 1% while demonizing the poor and scoffing at the activists struggling for justice.
So, as with my previous article, I must ask: Where do you stand on all this? Do you block it out or does it keep you up at night?
Do you want to live in a country where 1 out of 50 children are homeless while 1% of humanity accumulates vast material wealth?
If not, why aren’t you fighting back? If you can’t find a reason to fight for yourself, then just do it for all the children in every country. It’s now or never…
We are the 99%. Expect us. Join us…
#DeOccupyCorporatePropaganda. #OccupyClassWar. #Occupy4USChildren.
Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook.