(MintPress)— “Poverty is the new slavery,” Princeton University professor Cornel West recently concluded. “Oligarchs are the new kings. They’re the new heads of this structure of domination.” Nearly half of Americans are living in poverty or can be considered low income, according to the latest census data. While the U.S. Department of Labor has reported […]
(MintPress)— “Poverty is the new slavery,” Princeton University professor Cornel West recently concluded. “Oligarchs are the new kings. They’re the new heads of this structure of domination.”
Nearly half of Americans are living in poverty or can be considered low income, according to the latest census data.
While the U.S. Department of Labor has reported that the national unemployment rate recently fell to 8.2 percent, some say that’s not a marked sign of improvement.
Rather than a sign of recovery from turbulent financial waters across nation, economists have said that the reason behind the unemployment rates dip is that unemployed Americans have become so discouraged with job seeking that they’ve stopped looking.
And the growing problem of poverty in America is one which experts say isn’t just not being adequately addressed by the government, it’s actually being ignored.
“The Rich and the Rest of Us”
Princeton Professor of Religion and African American studies Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, host of The Tavis Smiley Show on PBS, have launched a campaign to raise awareness about the issue of poverty in the U.S. and start a national dialogue.
They have recently published a book on the topic called, “The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto.” West has been a supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movements across the country and was even arrested while demonstrating with members of the movement in New York back in October.
“That’s what America looks like right now,” Smiley says, “ There is this gap between the haves and the have-nots, a growing gap, in fact. When 1 percent of the people control 42 percent—own and control 42 percent of the wealth, that’s a problem. When one out of two Americans is either in or near poverty—you take the perennially poor or the persistent poor, on top of them the new poor—we argue in this book the new poor are the former middle class—and the near poor, folk who are a paycheck away, that’s 150 million Americans wrestling with poverty.”
To gather information about how this problem is affecting the lives of Americans, last year Smiley and West embarked on “The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience,” an 18-city bus tour that traveled across the country.
Smiley says the tour was designed to bring more attention to the plight of impoverished Americans.
The duo announced on the website they created to chronicle the event that they have been raising awareness about poverty in the U.S. in order to “highlight the plight of the poor people of all races, colors and creeds so they will not be forgotten, ignored or rendered invisible during this difficult and dangerous time of economic deprivation and political cowardice.”
Political dimensions of poverty
“Poverty threatens our democracy and that poverty is a matter of national security, that poverty is no longer color-coded. Americans of all races, all colors, all creeds,” Smiley says.
And they charge that politicians, including President Obama, aren’t putting enough effort into combating the problem of poverty.
“There seems to be a bipartisan consensus in Washington that the poor just don’t matter. President Obama is a part of that,” Smiley told Democracy Now. “I take nothing away from his push on healthcare, but jobs for every American should have been primary issue, number one.”
“The poor do not vote in large numbers and thus candidates can safely ignore them without any political cost,” says Michael Dunn, educator and researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.
A recent article in the Chicago Reader calls poverty the “forgotten issue” in the presidential campaign.
“On the other hand, the ranks of the poor have been growing rapidly because so many formerly middle class people have lost their jobs, pensions, investments and homes. Many are anxious about their own financial vulnerability. Thus, by ignoring or discounting poverty, candidates hope to make everyone who isn’t rich believe they are middle class, thus keeping the chronically poor, as well as the formally middle class nouveaux poor, optimistic about the future under their presidential candidate,” Dunn said.
MintPress has previously reported that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a multi-millionaire, recently said that he was “not concerned about the very poor”, and after his victory in the Florida GOP primary he told CNN, “You can focus on the very poor, that’s not my focus.”
Romney has also stated that he believes that U.S. foreclosures should be allowed to run their course.
Then and now
West sees a clear call to action on the issue taking into account historic U.S. struggles against monarchy, slavery and institutionalized racism. As those issues have been somewhat addressed in our country by the government, West says that “the issue today is oligarchy.”
“Imagine if 38 percent of white children were living in poverty,” says Chicago Reader columnist Steve Bogira, “Poverty wouldn’t be an issue in the presidential campaign. It would be the issue. That’s the percentage of African-Americans under 18 living in poverty in the U.S. It’s more than triple the percentage of white kids in poverty (12). Thirty-five percent of Hispanic children are also living in poverty.”
Child poverty rates in the U.S. have been climbing, going from 16 percent in 2000 to 22 percent in 2010.
Despite this stark statistic, Bogira criticizes both presidential candidates in not listing poverty amongst their top-priority domestic issues.
And children are not the only ones affected by poverty in historic numbers.
Nine million older adults don’t know where their next meal is coming from, Smiley recently reported, as many are faced with the dilemma of choosing to pay for either medications or food. Data from the census bureau has indicated that seniors are spending $1,500 less per year on food, while spending about $3,000 more per year on health care and insurance, compared to seniors 10 years ago.
West says that throughout history, social movements, rather than governmental programs, have made a difference in alleviating poverty. He points out that “as a result of the social movements, led by Martin Luther King Jr., but connected Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan and others, that we went from nearly 24 percent of Americans living in poverty to 11 percent—Michael Harrington, Frances Fox Piven, others playing a crucial role. Social movements make a difference. But also, greed at the top has social consequences. This is an issue of economic injustice, issues of class inequality, 1 percent of the population having 42 percent of the wealth. 2010, the top 1 percent got 93 percent of the income. And we’re not talking about wealth at this point. Income. Now that’s morally obscene,” he concluded.