While poor people along the Gulf Coast die amid rising flood waters, the rest of our nation's poor are mired in a rising tide not as swift, but surely as devastating in the long run as Hurricane Katrina's brutal splash. The U.S. poverty rate is up again, despite "strong economic growth and low unemployment." The Census Bureau reports 2004 was the fourth consecutive year in which the number of Americans living in poverty rose, now to nearly 37 million, or 12.7% of us. Household income, which reached its peak at $46,128 in 1999, fell again.
This surprises no one, of course. These days all you have to do to see the growth of personal financial desperation is go to any emergency room and see the flood of patients who are using that facility as their only healthcare option-- the only place they can't be turned away. 45.8 million Americans, 15.7% of us, now have no health insurance. I suppose on conservative talk radio they would tell us all these folks are illegal immigrants. They aren't. They are us.
So how does this happen at a time of "strong economic growth and low unemployment"? Scientists at the Economic Policy Institute say "the economy is growing but the fruits of growth are not reaching middle and low income families". What music that must be to the ears of the neocons. The rich are getting richer and the rest of the population are frozen out-- this is the perfect embodiment of the neocon design. Just be sure they don't have to worry about same sex marriages in the heartland, and the little people will put up with an immorally top-heavy economy. They can pray on it.
UC-Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong says "the erosion of government- and employer-provided safety nets has meant that the very large percentage of Americans who value economic security have no place to go, a situation we last saw during the Great Depression."
The Depression hit everyone hard, but our visual archives are largely populated by scenes of suffering on the Great Plains, where the pastures turned to dust. Today's economic suffering can come in many forms, from the ongoing disaster spectacle on the Gulf, to the quiet hidden moment when a middle class family discovers its finances are about to be destroyed by the mirage of a disability insurance policy that doesn't cover what they thought they were sure it covered.
Of the 1.1 million Americans who slipped below the poverty line in the past year, half of them are out in the Great Midwest. Somewhere there is a tipping point. Will it show up in November of 2006?