Tag Archives: Poverty in America

Poverty as a Disease

New Orleans  Dr. Perri Klaus wrote a piece recently for a Times’ column that should not be ignored essentially making the case that poverty is not simply a social, political, and economic circumstance, but a disease with terrible consequences, lifelong impacts, and potentially multi-generational effects.

At one level he talks about an increasingly prevalent diagnosis in our hardening class structure called “toxic stress” which can damage a young child’s body and brain by “too much exposure to so-called stress hormones, like cortisol  and norepinephrine.”  This stress attract without prevention or mediation may “reset the neurological and hormonal systems, permanently affecting children’s brains and even, we are learning, their genes.”

Sound serious enough?  There’s no 12-step program for this situation.  It’s permanent and life altering, as Dr. Klaus and many others point out leading to “define many children’s life trajectories in the harshest terms:  poor academic achievement, high dropout rates, and health problems from obesity and diabetes to heart disease, substance abuse and mental illness.”

This diagnosis to me seems to strongly say:  pay me now or pay me later.

Klaus, trying to avoid the “Debbie downer” tag, argued that the United Kingdom under Prime Minister Tony Blair looked at their gaping wealth disparity and made a goal of reducing poverty there by half in 10 years, and up until 2010 largely succeeded cutting the absolute poverty rate from 26.1% of children in 1999 to 10.6% in 2010.  In America now 25% of children under 5 live below the federal poverty guidelines, and we are moving the opposite direction by not expanding early childhood education and defunding Head Start.

You get the message.  We can beat this disease, but likely every disease we have to be willing to prevent its onset and then take the cure.  Both take money and willpower.   One we have and the other we seem to be sadly lacking.  Meanwhile the disease and destruction of poverty rages on, killing millions, and leaving despair and destruction wherever the epidemic is allowed to fester and rage.

Poverty as Disease Audio Blog


Fifty Million Poor on the Edge of the Fiscal Cliff

New Orleans   With all of the chatter about this so-called fiscal “cliff,” it seems the real danger is not to the poor rich, who might have to start paying at least a little more of their fair share of taxes, but to the real poor who are being threatened directly with every word out of Speaker Boehner’s attacks on remaining entitlement programs.  The United States Census Bureau finally got the wakeup call that defining poverty needed to include medical costs, assuredly, and work-related expenses, that are too often ignored.  The impact moved the numbers of poor in the USA to over 16% of our population and at 49,700,000, too damn close to 50 million who are now “officially” poor, though every one of them knew this way before they got the news.  It is this group that the Speaker and his Republican caucus are targeting as open season in their coming standoff with President Obama.

With the new Census Bureau formulas, more of the elderly, city dwellers and lower wage workers are rightfully showing up on the list.  Real numbers like these may take California from the pedestal our imagination placed the state in the golden west of our dreams to last place as the state with the poorest population in the country.  Also at the bottom with them now are the District of Columbia, Arizona, Florida, and Georgia.  The South is of course well represented still, but the traditional bottom dwellers (which are still near the bottom!) of Mississippi, New Mexico, Arizona, and Louisiana inched up comparatively.

An AP story by Hope Yen captures the impact of the numbers well:

Broken down by group, poverty was disproportionately affecting people 65 and older – about 15.1 percent or nearly double the 8.7 percent rate calculated under the official number.  They also have higher medical expenses, such as Medicare premiums, deductibles, and drug costs, that aren’t factored into the official rate.   Working-age adults ages 18-64 saw an increase in poverty to 15.5 percent from 13.7 percent, due mostly to commuting and child care costs.

Equally unsettling is the fact that with these additional calculations, the Census Bureau also figured that without Social Security payments, the rate for the elderly would soar to 54.1% and 24.4% for all groups, without earned income tax credits, child poverty would go from 18.1% to 24.4%, and without food stamps the poverty rate would move to 17.6% from 16.1%.   These are all the last of the endangered entitlement programs that form what’s left of the “safety net” for American families.

The Affordable Health Care Act or Obama-care in Louisiana for example would assist 400,000 uncovered poor with health coverage and measurably reduce poverty and its impact in this state, yet arch-conservative Republican governor Bobby Jindal continues to stand in the way on this life-and-death proposition.  This is also true for a number of other states who are ideologically opposed expansion of protections.

What does it take to have a truthful debate about the disgrace of such politicians bending and scraping to advantage their rich friends and contributors, and literally sending the poor to death and demise?