It’s never been easy to be poor, but recent studies suggest it may be more difficult than ever to live below the poverty line. Although our country is one of the wealthiest in the world, approximately 47 million U.S. citizens — including a quarter of our children — live below the poverty line. According to the U.S. Census, between 14 and 18 million impoverished families live on just $10 a day per person. Worse yet, 8 to 10 million families live on around $5 a day per person. The bottom 1% of U.S. citizens, or about 4 to 6 million families, may live on an appallingly low $2 a day per person.
It is both shocking and horrifying that so many people live in abject poverty when our nation is so wealthy. In light of recent policies, it may even seem like our government is waging a war against the have-nots in the U.S. While the poor get poorer, our country continues to cut programs that help keep them afloat. Here’s a look at how and why the gap between the rich and poor in our country is getting worse.
As Poor as the Poor in Ethiopia?
The poorest of the poor in the United States aren’t just the least wealthy people in this country; they are also some of the poorest people in the entire world. Even though the United States is one of the richest countries in the world, the bottom 1% of our citizens make about the same amount of money as the poor in Haiti, Mozambique and Ethiopia. The difference is that in poorer counties, people can often live on this amount of money. The poorest citizens of the United States don’t just face the social stigma of having to be below Western standards of living — they also can’t afford to feed their families.
If you think the divide between the rich and the poor is growing, you’re right. The incomes of the neediest Americans have risen only minimally during the past two decades. The same amount of people that lived on $15,000 a year or less in 1989 live on that salary today. However, the number of people that make over $200,000 a year has risen by over 60 percent.
The Failure of the Trickle-Down Effect
One of the reasons wages for the poor have only risen marginally in the past several years is our failure to accommodate those in poverty when coming out of a recession. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and similarly-minded politicians spoke of the so-called “trickle-down effect.” What they meant by this was that if you simply took care of the rich, their wealth would trickle down to the lower classes. However, the increasing divide between our rich and poor is proof that this hasn’t worked.
Stripping of Social Mobility
One of the great American dreams is to be able to overcome humble beginnings and give your children a better life. However, Americans are becoming less and less likely to do so. Tools that needy people in our country previously used to come out of poverty are dwindling. The House of Representatives actually targeted SNAP — the supplemental nutrition assistance program. SNAP, which is also known as food stamps, helps approximately 23 million Americans eat every day. Contrary to what you may have been told, it only costs about $4.50 per person. Getting rid of food stamps is one of the worst things our country could do for social mobility. How would the poorest of the poor ever hope to move out of poverty if they were no longer able to eat?
The reason given for the proposal to oust SNAP was to reduce government spending and help bring the country out of a recession. However, as we’ve seen throughout American history, caring for the rich alone doesn’t seem to work. After all, even though we’re in the midst of a recession, the salaries of the top 1% of Americans have risen by 34%. Our government needs to look after all of us if we hope to have economic prosperity again.
The Poor Can’t Simply Overcome Poverty
There’s often a stigma associated with those who live in abject poverty. Some of us assume that poor people are poor because they don’t work hard enough or manage their money properly. People think they spend their money fueling habits like alcoholism or gambling, when the simple, more common, fact is they merely have families to feed.
The bottom line is most people live in poverty because they have no way out of it. How we’ll get out of the recession remains to be seen, but could it be that the opposite of the trickle-down effect — taking care of the needy first — could work? If not, how will we solve the poverty crisis in the United States? Does anyone think we can actually call ourselves the best country in the world when so many of our citizens live in such dire conditions?