Moral Low Ground

US Government


Cheer up; you're not alone. (Photo: Sharon Pruitt)

Cheer up; you’re not alone. (Photo: Sharon Pruitt)

A new study has found that one in five American children is living in poverty and many on the right are blaming President Obama, even as they propose raising taxes on the poor while rejecting any tax increases for the rich.

The latest “Kids Count” report, published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a “private charitable organization dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States,” shows that child poverty has increased in 38 of the 50 states over the last decade as families struggle from high unemployment, low wages and the ongoing foreclosure crisis.

Kate Randall of the World Socialist Web Site writes: “As child poverty is widely regarded as a barometer of society’s well-being, the report’s findings are an indictment of conditions in the US in which the chasm between the super-rich and the vast majority of the population continues to widen. With proposed budget cuts at both the state and federal level, the conditions confronting America’s children and youth will indubitably worsen in the coming period.”

The “Kids Count” report counted 14,700,000 children– fully 20%– living in poverty, up from 17% in the year 2000. This stands in stark contrast to the years 1994- 2000, one of the most prosperous periods of the 20th century, when the child poverty rate plunged almost 30%.

The report also found shocking racial and geographic disparities in child poverty rates. Fully 36% of black children, 35% of Native American and Alaskan Native children and 31% of Hispanic children are poor, compared to just 12% of white and 13% of Asian children. The states with the highest levels of child poverty are clustered in the South, with Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi at the bottom of the list (31% of Mississippi children are poor). The states with the lowest levels of poor children are clustered in the Northeast and the Upper Plains, with Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Hampshire at the top of the list (11% in New Hampshire).

Moreover, the official figure at or below which a family 0f four is considered poor– $21,756 in 2009– is based on a calculation that has not been adjusted in more than 40 years, so today’s official poverty figure is equivalent to about 30% of median household income. In the 1960s, it was around half of the median.

Shockingly, nearly 50% of all U.S. children under the age of three were living in low-income families, defined as $44,700 for a family of four, in 2009.

What’s to blame for the alarming rise in child poverty in the United States? The recession and its resultant unemployment, the decline of American manufacturing (and the rise of low-paying service jobs) and the foreclosure crisis are the immediate causes. The “Kids Count” report found that 5.3 million children have been affected by foreclosures since 2007.

It also found that 12 million parents with children under 18 had no health insurance. This has no doubt contributed to a rise in infant mortality– the U.S. now ranks 28th out of 32 industrialized nations in that indicator.

According to the 2011 C.I.A. Factbook, the United States has fallen to 50th place globally in life expectancy, five slots below Bosnia and Herzegovina and just above Panama.

The United States, overall, suffers from a shocking level of income inequality. Based on United Nations figures, the U.S. is tied for 72nd place with Ghana and Turkmenistan for income equality.

What can be done about the Third-World-like wealth and health disparities? The “Kids Count” report recommends extending unemployment benefits for those who have been without work for long periods of time, bolstering the government Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), preventing foreclosures and making health care more affordable.

Unfortunately, in today’s crisis-ridden environment, the federal government is much more likely to make cuts than enhancements to programs that are literally the difference between poverty and getting by for millions of Americans. Instead of drastically reducing the military budget (not only by cutting numbers but also by ending unnecessary wars and closing some of the more than 1,000 overseas U.S. military bases), more than $650,000,000,000 is still spent each year on “defense.” Instead of raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, who enjoy the lowest tax burdens in generations, the government is preparing to slash hundreds of billions of dollars from the budgets of the very social programs that help keep tens of millions of Americans afloat.

There are even those on the reactionary right who would raise taxes on low- and middle-income Americans while refusing to even consider hiking taxes one penny for the wealthiest among us. GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann has said it’s a “problem” that  Americans of less than substantial means “pay virtually no federal tax.” There’s a reason why these people don’t pay much or any federal income tax– they don’t earn enough money to qualify under the current tax regimen. People like Bachmann also fail to point out that even though many low- and middle- income Americans pay little or no federal income tax, they still bear the burden of sales, state, local, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and, often, property taxes.

Disgustingly, some of the right-wing media have seized upon the “Kids Count” report as an opportunity to blame Obama for the fact that a fifth of our nation’s children are poor. ‘POVERTY SOARS UNDER OBAMA’ was the original headline on Fox Nation. Someone must have pointed out that the study covered the years 2000- 2009, seven of which, of course, fell under Bush’s leadership, because the Fox banner quickly changed to ‘STUDY: ONE IN FIVE AMERICAN CHILDREN LIVING IN POVERTY.’

Rush Limbaugh also attempted to manipulate the “Kids Count” findings to serve his own warped world view: ‘ONE IN FIVE AMERICAN CHILDREN NOW LIVING IN POVERTY, DESPITE FOOD STAMPS,’ he screamed, failing to mention that the study found that SNAP mitigated the effects of the recession on children, or that the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the number of poor Americans would double without programs such as SNAP.

But instead of addressing the root causes of poverty and economic inequality, reactionary hotheads like Bachmann, Limbaugh and everyone over at Fox News prefer to blame the poor for their own plight and, perversely, make their lives more difficult by withdrawing the very lifelines that keep them from sinking even deeper into the abyss of destitution. This, while they shamelessly advocate reducing the already lightened burden on those whose gilded cups runneth over (and over, and over). The Bachmanns and the Limbaughs out there would do well to heed the advice of one of their own. Said World War II hero and Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

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