Sunday, November 20, 2011


I'll bet you never figured you'd see an article on US poverty in a Mexican newspaper. I know I sure didn't, yet that was exactly what I found during my weekend visit to Watching America. The rest of the world, including those with whom we associate massive amounts of poverty, has noticed (with some schadenfreude) that the richest country in the world has its own very real problem with rising poverty.

From Mexico's La Cronica de Hoy:

In a survey conducted by The Washington Post and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 52 percent of those surveyed considered it a mistake to think that the United States is a country of unequally distributed wealth, divided between the haves and the have-nots. ...

Hence it is a surprise that only 45 percent of the population believes that there is income inequality. Official figures and reports on other nations leave no doubt that, here, the gap between the haves and the have-nots has not grown daily.

This country, which is referred to as “the richest country in the world” on an international scale, is very low with regard to the distribution of wealth and income, almost at the bottom of the list. In fact, according to the Gini coefficient, an income inequality indicator named after the Italian economist who created it, the U.S. is ranked near Argentina, Iran and Madagascar and very far from countries such as Germany and Canada.

According to census figures to be released this week, there are 49 million poor people in the United States – nearly 3 million more than in September. That is to say, 16 percent of the population is poor, and that poverty can be seen particularly among Asians and Hispanics. These groups have passed African Americans in poverty rates for the first time with 28.2 percent and 25.4, respectively. This is because immigrant groups participate far less in social programs, education and housing subsidies.

These new figures are the highest that have been registered since such poverty statistics were first recorded 50 years ago and show notable decline in the middle class. They also show that the elderly are the most affected. It is estimated that one out of six people older than 65 are poor due principally to medical costs encountered in a country without socialized medicine.
[Emphasis added]

The article is referring to actual poverty as defined by the Census Bureau, not the "near poverty" that I posted on yesterday. Even so, the figures are startling, especially to countries we consider "third world."

And the article does not provide a complete list of causes for the increase in US poverty, but does hit a few of the more obvious ones, most notably the lack of access to affordable health care even for the elders who have access to Medicare.

What is most impressive, however, is that the article notes the disconnect between the actuality and the perception by Americans at this point with respect to the income inequality and the effect this is having on the country. That less than half of Americans recognize the disparity is stunning. That said, however, I think it likely that perceptions are slowly beginning to change because of the Occupy movement.

I certainly hope so, because until more people recognize that we're all in danger of slipping into poverty as a result of the unfair distribution of wealth the problem can't be properly addressed.

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