Four out of Five Adults are Facing Economic Insecurity or Near-Poverty in America

Poverty -- It's not just historical.  It's all around us.

Poverty — It’s not just historical. It’s all around us.

Peter Van Buren

As the handful of multi-millionaires running for president threaten to pretend to make “economic disparity” a campaign meme, and then forget they ever heard of it once in power, four out of five adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives. Here’s the new American dream — a nightmare of economic insecurity.

The Numbers

Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to a widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend.

The survey defines “economic insecurity” as a year or more of periodic joblessness, reliance on government aid such as food stamps, or income below 150 percent of the poverty line. Measured across all races, the risk of economic insecurity rises to 79 percent.

The findings come even as Obama is claiming in recent speeches his highest priority (it has only been seven years plus so no hurry) is to “rebuild ladders of opportunity” and reverse income inequality.

No Longer a Race Thing

Poverty is often defined — by many whites — as a minority problem.

While minorities are still more likely to live in poverty, income disparities by race have narrowed substantially since the 1970s. Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in the government’s poverty data, engulfing more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60, according to a new economic gauge being published next year by the Oxford University Press. Pessimism among whites about their families’ economic futures has climbed to the highest point since at least 1987.

More than 19 million whites now fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, accounting for more than 41 percent of the nation’s destitute, nearly double the number (if not the percentage) of poor blacks.

Sometimes termed “the invisible poor,” lower-income whites generally are dispersed in suburbs and small rural towns, instead of being concentrated in urban areas more common to people of color. As an example, Buchanan County, in southwest Virginia, is among the nation’s most destitute based on median income, with poverty at 24 percent. The county is 99 percent white.

America is indeed becoming a more equal place, but through a gross process of leveling down, not growing up.

Boiling Frogs

The issue of denial is the key to a tiny one percent of Americans getting away with this in what, overall, is still a very wealthy society.

People think because they and their neighbors have a TV, they are fine. Or they are divided into antagonistic groups by race, with one believing the other has all the money and power, while the other sees their urban neighbors as lazy welfare cheats. It does work well to keep people divided, fighting with one another, and thus ignoring that narrow band of upper, upper class folks who really do hold all the cards.

Inside that 80 percent of America slipping into poverty, people pay little attention to the quality of the food they can afford, the (lack of) healthcare, their poor schools and potted roads, the lack of forward opportunities for them and their kids and so forth. Short-sighted viewpoints, coupled with clever politicians who make each election about guns, gays and abortion, mask the obvious, even from the people boiling like frogs.

Peter Van Buren is a former State Department Officer who has an impish sense of humor.  He used that to devastating effect in his book, We Meant Well, on our misbegotten venture in Iraq. For telling the unvarnished truth about his service in Iraq, Van Buren was persecuted, then forced into retirement, by the State Department after more than two decades of service.

7 thoughts on “Four out of Five Adults are Facing Economic Insecurity or Near-Poverty in America

  1. What a testament to the power of marketing! A large percentage of the folks living paycheck to paycheck have put themselves in that predicament voluntarily–well, okay, make that “voluntarily.” Do they really NEED to drive SUVs and big-assed pickup trucks–indeed, to have one for every driving member of the family? (And while we’re on that subject, have you noticed that the folks with the least fuel-efficient vehicles drive the fastest?!? It’s like they can’t wait to further fill the coffers of Exxon/Mobil, Shell, etc. by pulling up to a gas pump for a refill as soon as they can.) The monthly lease payments on these vehicles, we may be sure, eat up a big chunk of a family’s income. Now factor in all the other consumer goodies that, frankly, are NOT necessities of life. But people still rush out to buy them. I often get the impression that, since US manufacturing was outsourced overseas, half the working population here at home is employed marketing stuff to the rest of us. I’ve been working for a while on the thesis that American civilization entered its terminal downslope with the invention/marketing of the electric can opener. Golly, how did our forebears ever survive without it, huh?

    • Peter’s devastating analysis of what both the Democrats and the Republicans have done by passing legislation that put American citizen’s fate in the hands of big corporate America has reminded me of my past.

      I was demobilized early in 1946 after three years in the wartime US Army Air Corps. I was just a very poor boy of 21 with not a sou in my pocket but a government that was thoughtful enough to let me go with hope that they would see me through the trauma of having left my youth behind and they would let me enter civilian life with either a good job or a good education. I took the good education option and learned not to look back on my lost youth.

      Before the war I was in that part of white America that Peter describes above as poverty stricken. A condition that more and more Americans are finally beginning to feel and understand. Since WW II most Americans have had an ‘easy ride’ thanks to the policies that the Democratic party’s “New Deal” left behind as the law of the land. Slowly both partys have chipped away at the ‘New Deal’ until now it stands as an eviscerated skeleton and in its place they have put an obscenely rich oligarchy and an impoverished citizenry. Now both parties only care about their well heeled corporate rich backers and only before elections do they suddenly discover the iniquities in our society. After election each party forgets about those inequities and starts paying back their rich backers. .

      • Perhaps accidentally, traven, I like your juxtaposition of “inequity” and “iniquity.” The policies of the powerful have widened inequities in society, and they simply don’t care. Indeed, the more vulnerable and helpless the proles are, the more the rich can put the screws to them. Such a mindset is an iniquity, to use a good Biblical phrase, a transgression against your fellow man (and woman).

        Well, let’s hope it’s true that “It’s easier to thread a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven.”

      • Unfortunately, the famous and obscenely rich do NOT conduct themselves in this world based on a fear of being left out of heaven. They may be the most pious of individuals in the public view, but nightly, behind closed doors, they party with Beelzebub (metaphorically speaking, of course).

    • It truly is a triumph of marketing, Greg, to turn wants into needs. So many great marketing phrases: Treat yourself! You deserve it! You can have it all! And so on.

      Yesterday, I was half-listening to CNN when a commercial came on for reverse mortgages. That’s right. After you’ve spent decades building equity in your home, take out a “reverse mortgage” so you can live the high life while throwing away the one source of wealth you have at your disposal. And what for? Disposable goods!

      The world is getting too ridiculous to live in, as Dustin Hoffman says in “Little Big Man.”

  2. “We can safely abandon the doctrine of the eighties, namely that the rich were not working because they had too little money, the poor because they had much.” John Kenneth Galbraith

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