By Joseph Batory
(Published in the Center City Concerned Citizens Review, April 2022, Philadelphia, PA)
A recent U.S. Census has revealed that 43 million Americans still live in poverty. Added to this is the reality that 13 million American children (1 in very 5) live in poverty. In fact, children are the poorest Americans… and the younger these children are, the poorer they are. All of this reflects immoral, costly, and preventable poverty, homelessness, hunger, health problems, inadequate education, and violence plaguing millions in our nation who deserve better.
According to recent federal data, six million of the 13 million poor children million in America live in extreme poverty. We are the world’s greatest food-producing nation yet 14.8 million American children live in food-insecure households. There are more than one million homeless children are in our schools. 3.9 million children lack health insurance. And many poor children attend sub-standard schools.
Tragically, in our tremendously unequal society, many Americans overgeneralize the poor as lazy and without goals and aspirations.
But the causes of poverty – being born into a poor family, the loss of employment, discrimination, inadequate education, substance abuse, emotional distress from adverse reality (many suffering war vets), and mental problems are not obstacles easily overcome.
Far too many Americans take for granted their own wealth/affluence and comfortable living and would rather pretend poverty is not an issue in our country. So, struggling poor people get pigeonholed and stereotyped while every year many monumentally rich CEO’s pay lower effective tax rates than their secretaries. That’s billions of dollars in revenue staying in the greedy pockets of affluent individuals and corporations, rather than equalizing opportunities to create survival conditions for those in dire situations.
The bottom line is that the U.S. is a world leader in the gap between rich and poor. Despite having the most billionaires and the highest gross domestic product among the 35-member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the USA ranks a shameful 32nd lowest among these 35 countries for income equality. The bottom line is that the U.S. is a world leader in the gap between rich and poor.
A study from the University of California-Berkeley pointed out that about 1% of the wealthiest Americans own about 20% of the nation’s wealth. The bottom 90% of our citizens own about the same amount (25%).
Meanwhile, the rich have gotten much richer. An analysis of Federal Reserve data has documented a $21 trillion increase in wealth for the top 1% of USA residents from 1989 to 2018. During that same time period, the overall wealth of the bottom 50 percent of our citizens dropped by $900 billion.
Added to this, racial and ethnic oppression in the USA has created a cycle of poverty so encompassing that it infinitely affects millions of people, despite the gains in civil rights over the last fifty years.
Ironically, each of the world’s religions focuses on the “responsibility of truly religious people” to care for the poor of our nation who need compassion and better support from our government as well as each of us.
Beyond that, in the words of Confucius: “In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of.”
Ignoring this situation from a governmental perspective makes no sense! The impact of neglecting large numbers of children in poverty has had and will continue to have long term negative economic impacts on our nation. Refusing to invest in adequately addressing the poverty issue today will only result in much larger financial and societal impacts down the road when so many of these poor children will not succeed in our society.
America can do better!
Joseph Batory grew up in a poor family in Southwest Philadelphia. He rose above his lowly beginnings to become the award-winning superintendent of schools in the Upper Darby School District (PA). Joe is the author of three books and nearly 200 published articles on history, politics, and education.