Today, one in three persons born into middle class households will fall out of that status as adults. Small business owners, suburban homeowners, and skilled construction tradespeople, once the dominant class in America, is shrinking. As for America's poor, from 2007 to 2010 the number of homeless children in the US increased by 400,000, reaching a record high in 2013, a 300% increase from 1983. The 2012 US Census found 46 million Americans live in poverty, also a record high.
What's happening? Part of the challenge before us may be simply not wanting to look closely enough at our problem. In this Reader Magazine we'll take that closer look through the eyes of those suffering and those working to defend them, and from doing so, solutions emerge plain as day.
Poverty is "a violation of human dignity, the lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence, and it often implies living in marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation," in the words of Wikipedia.
So why is the middle class shrinking and 46 million Americans living in poverty? Has it something to do with the fact we once celebrated the quiet moral choices of a man like George Bailey, and his overriding concern for others and today orchestrate reality shows like Survivor?
Chris Hedges says, "Education, transparency, honesty and sharing are qualities that will see you ridiculed and voted off any reality show. Life, these shows teach, is a brutal world of unadulterated competition and a constant quest for attention. Those who fail, who are ugly, ignorant, or poor are belittled and mocked."
In this Reader, you'll hear the elsewhere belittled voices of the poor and their champions like, Reverend Kate Lore, who says, "by falling for the lure of individual success, we have forgotten our ideals. It's not just our safety net that's falling apart. It's the moral fiber and that's what happens when we forget to have love and compassion for one another."
Let's start here to rekindle an essential, less celebrated, part of what it is to be American– compassion towards the less fortunate. Doing so, we will discover we can bind up and heal our collective fears from living in a society that is a little more brutal than we would like, through taking action rather than simply doing nothing. We find that there is no time to lose as increasing numbers of American middle class families are one financial shock or three months of expenses away from a total slide into poverty.
Sasha Abramsky, who wrote The American Way of Poverty, offers a plain-speaking, from the streets story (rather than the spin) of middle class and poor Americans struggling to escape poverty.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the year when America sought to wage a war on poverty through programs such as Community Action Partnership, Head Start and others. The programs would never have come into being without an American outsider named Martin Luther King, who non-violently forced these issues into the national discourse and said, "The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. The time has come for us civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty."
by Christopher Theodore, Publisher