Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Two Steps Backwards

The War on Poverty is over. We lost. The past nearly eight years have been a series of retreats from the things most important to citizens of the U.S.

The public interest is nowhere to be seen in any list of the 'legacy' that the Liebury of this administration is supposed to document. As a result, poverty is booming, the economy is in the ditch.

There's an endless supply of poverty.

Even in a nation as prosperous as ours.

Which means that if I ever get around to inking Poor Like Me – the unwritten story of a poor farm boy from East Texas who grew up to be a poor journalist in North Texas – a vast, if restless, audience awaits.

But timing is everything.

And right now, concentrated poverty is resurfacing in the U.S., reversing the fortunes of many cities and neighborhoods that saw steep declines a decade ago, according to a disturbing study released Tuesday by the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institute.

In the first half of this decade, the study found, the number of low-wage workers and families living in poverty-stricken neighborhoods "rose by a striking 41 percent."

The report caught my eye because, a scant five years ago, another Brookings-commissioned study gave me faint hope that we were beginning to turn the corner on poverty.

That 2003 study – based on 1999 federal income tax filings – was optimistically titled: "Stunning Progress, Hidden Problems: the Dramatic Decline of Concentrated Poverty in the 1990s."

It found that the number of folks living in high-poverty neighborhoods fell 24 percent nationwide during the '90s, reversing a steep rise in urban poverty from 1970 to 1990. A high-poverty neighborhood is defined as one in which at least 40 percent of the population qualifies for the federal earned income tax credit, or EITC. For a married couple with two kids, the poverty threshold was $19,806 in 2005. The EITC income limit for a family of four was $37,263.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area held its own in that study, with the number of people living in very poor neighborhoods dropping by 45 percent in the '90s.

But the new study – based on 2005 statistics – paints a dramatically different picture. The title alone points up how much ground we've lost in recent years: "Reversal of Fortune: A New Look at Concentrated Poverty in the 2000s."

Betcha didn't notice that your taxes haven't gone down, but now they're used against you instead of for you. While if you're reading this, you probably are keeping your head above water economically, you also are most likely to care that this country be a decent, functional entity. There, you are losing.


From The Sideshow:

Ron Suskind did an online chat at the WaPo that was a refreshing departure from the usual ducking and diving readers get from journalists. For example:

Chicago: It seems that free and democratic societies fall when those who take power and destroy the rule of law have little fear of retribution. In this light, do you not think it is important the members of Bush administration should not be allowed to run out the clock without facing some form of justice? That doing nothing condones, sets a precedent and allows by silence future leaders to continue and extend the abuses of power that we have seen executed by this administration?

Ron Suskind: This question is crafted with great resonance and power. I agree with every word of it. The great challenge of this period is to exercise the powers enumerated in the Constitution in present tense. That Constitution is not a document to be employed at one's convenience or concerns for time frames or a ticking clock. The difficulty here is this larger issue the reader discusses of accountability in a democracy. I think we've had a kind of severing between issues of accountability of the duly elected to the soverign public. The term public servant is very carefully crafted and carries an odd tension -- that these people with great powers at their disposal are in fact servants of the people. Only with accountability, transparency and exercise of the rule of law does this system work. Can power exercised by so few over so many every be properly checked?

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