Poverty – The Flip-Side of Profit

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau reported a massive increase in the federal poverty rate. In 2009, the number of people living below the official poverty line rose to 44 million, the largest number since the agency began keeping track 50 years ago. These numbers mean that one in every seven people in the U.S. is living in poverty, which is considered less than $10,830 per year for a single adult, and less than $22,050 for a family of four. According to the Census report, between 2008 and 2009 about 4 million more people became officially poor, most of whom are children and working parents.

The actual numbers are even greater because the Census skips over most people who are homeless or living in shelters, elderly living in nursing homes, and prisoners. Also, about 3 million more families were kept out of official poverty statistics simply because they received extended unemployment benefits – which are about to run out. In 2009, the number of people without health insurance reached over 50 million, the highest number ever recorded in this country. The number of people receiving food stamps reached an all-time high of over 40 million people this month. August-2010 set a record for the largest number of home foreclosures ever recorded in the U.S., over 95,000 in one month. And the year 2010 is expected to have more than 1.2 million foreclosures, 12 times more than in 2005. The reality of poverty is far worse and far more widespread than the statistics calculate.

Living in poverty doesn’t just mean having to watch what you spend. It means living in desperation and insecurity. It means skipping meals so your kids can eat. It means not knowing where you will lay your head at night. It means constantly asking your relatives and friends for help. It means choosing between buying medicine and buying breakfast. It can mean losing custody of your children. And for many it is a death sentence.

Poverty is a daily crisis that impacts the lives of everyone connected to it. It is an unpredictable rollercoaster of constant stress and worry about one’s own life and their children. It means relatives and friends feel constantly guilty, worrying whether they helped out enough, hoping they won’t get a phone call from the hospital or jail. For the millions of people living in poverty it is a problem demanding an urgent solution.

But this urgency is ignored by the politicians and the bosses. To them, poverty doesn’t represent people struggling to survive. Poverty is either blamed on the individuals themselves, or explained away by the phrases like “tough times” or “economic recession.” Either way, poverty is accepted and ignored as just one part of their system, one part of the process of making money.

In this same period, from 2008 to 2009, corporations and banks actually made more money. Banks reported their highest profits since 2005. At the same time, the CEOs of corporations that fired the most workers also made the most money, over 42 percent more than CEOs at other corporations.

Not only is poverty accepted by the super rich, but it is the cause of their wealth. The poorer people are, the lower their wages and the greater the profits. The poorer people are, the more desperate they are for work and the more willing they are to work for less money. So again, the greater the profits. Poverty is definitely not a problem for the super rich.

Poverty cannot be explained away by blaming individuals for not finding high paying jobs. Poverty is not an accident of bad economic times. Poverty is a permanent part of a system run against our interests. Poverty is just the flip-side of profit.