Near Poor: Trouble at the Dividing Line of Poverty

New Orleans                       Nothing like stumbling over the obvious, but then the whole point of being relatively poor or “near poor,” as the Times called it today, is being invisible, no matter what they or anyone else may want to call it.  In looking at the new numbers that try to define the terror and tragedy of poverty now being issued by the Census Bureau by examining how much money people really have to spent, as opposed to believing that anyone can “eat” something as gross as “gross income,” the razor edge between being dead ass broke and just barely scraping by is clearer.

It also has a number now thanks to a “freedom of information” request by the Times to the Census folks for the numbers of people that are only at 50% above the poverty line.  The numbers are huge:  51,000,000 people are “near poor” and bleeding at this sharp edge where any bad break can push them below the poverty line.  There are hundreds of reasons families are in this bind, including the housing crises, stagnant wages, undervalued work, medical bills, and whatever, but the point is they are there and it’s no picnic with no relief in sight.   According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the characteristics of the “near poor” include the fact that 50% include a married couple, 49% own their homes, 42% have health insurance, and 28% work fulltime.  On the “citizen wealth” index where I have argued that “maximum feasible participation” could spell the difference, 20% are barely above the poverty line solely because of benefits that they have successfully accessed.

Conservatives bickered over whether or not this means that 100 million people (counting the near poor and the rest of the poor) in the USA are “starving.”  This is hardly the point, because this is really an emerging definition of precariousness that would be the statistical point where any tremor or imbalance can push a family into deeper poverty and even hunger.

As an organizer of low-and-moderate income families, I was probably only asked to define that term a thousand times over the decades, but, like it or not, it now appears that we are getting closer and closer to a real definition, even though there seems to be no will or reason that any are arguing to do something about it.

 

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