Sunday, March 04, 2007

Deep Poverty

Deep poverty means that a family of two adults and two children live on an income of $9,903 per year or a single person lives on $5,080 per year (which translates to about half the poverty level). According to a survey done by McClatchy Newspapers and published HERE, the number of people living in deep poverty in North Carolina has increased to approximately seventeen percent of the population (523,000 in deep poverty, 8,683,000 total population 2005). Government statistics show that all persons living under the poverty level was 13.4 percent in 2003. You’re right; the survey shows that more people were living in deep poverty in 2005 than government statistics show were living in poverty in 2003. Can two years make such a difference?

Never mind the differences in the figures, too many people are living on too little. North Carolina is tenth in the list of most people living in deep poverty. Not Mississippi, Not Louisiana. Never mind Katrina and its effects. And the top of the list is California. Not surprising that our largest states have very large numbers of poverty stricken families. Washington, DC, was mentioned for its high level of people living in severe poverty.

What’s wrong with us, folks? I’m buying pretty towels made in Turkey and my neighbors need toilet paper. What’s wrong with me? One year we gave away half of what we made (and that was just the tax deductible part), and our bit of giving didn’t make any difference in the number of people living in poverty, going hungry, living in tiny rooms with too many people.

The economy is doing well. Our income witnesses to that. But, perhaps the economy has forgotten about the people and concentrated only on the dollar. People who did manual labor for many years and were paid a pittance, sometimes under the table and without social security being deducted – these people are now suffering from severe poverty. They can no longer do the work they did before; they have no training to do anything else. Many are old and ill with no insurance and depending on the food pantry at the local church to help them eat. Maybe they can get a small amount of Section 8 housing money or food stamps, but that often requires paperwork that they can’t decipher.

The economy has changed. Yet, only slightly more than half of the young people who finish grade 9 in North Carolina actually graduate from high school. So, they flip burgers or stand on the street corners in outlandish costumes advertising some business. And, they live in rented rooms or bunk down at the local shelter. Who will rescue these young people from living all their lives in severe poverty? Never mind the baby boomers that magazines picture as all being middle class. Well, we know from the statistics that too many of them are living on half of the poverty level. How will they retire? Who will care for them in their illness? Where will they live?

I am concerned not only that too many people are living in such poverty but also that few programs are successful in preparing dropouts and other young adults to live in this growing technical age. They are ignorant of what is needed to live. They have few, if any, skills for this economy. How can we help them? I don’t have answers.


Dennis said...

I suspect that education has something to do with the answer, and health care access, and perhaps even recreating a business climate where all of the rewards do not acrue to the very top... but ultimately I have to agree with you that I just don't know. I am starting to believe that political action is the best answer for individuals to make some difference, and then next in importance is efforts made at the individual level, helping one or two people in need. But again, like you, I just don't know.

Dave said...

Or else the solution is to start a Christian theocracy in the United States—one where we give to the poor, the sick, and the friendless, and the rich give everything that they don't need in order that all may have.

(I'm turning the hairy eyeball at you, Christian rightists!)

June Butler said...

Share Cropper, Dennis, said pretty much what I wanted to say. The majority in this country don't have the will to do the hard work to reduce poverty. The idea of fairness and justice for all do not seem to be a big part of the conversation here in the US.