“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” This is supposedly what the dream of America offers, but does this hold true for the 35.9 million Americans living in poverty today? This is the latest number of people living in poverty, according to the annual U.S. Census Bureau report for 2004. The report also states that in 2003 the number of Americans living in poverty rose by 1.3 million people, to 12.5% of the population.
These numbers are appalling, but what is more disturbing is the number of people of color, single mothers, and children who are hit the hardest. Twenty-four percent of African Americans and 22.5% of Latinos live below the official poverty line, nearly twice the national rate.
Of all the “family groups” in the Census report, poverty is highest among single mothers. Twenty-eight percent of female-headed families are living in poverty, compared with 5.4% of two-parent households.
The Children’s Defense Fund recently released The State of America’s Children 2004, examining how children are faring in the U.S, and the figures are disgraceful. One in six children today lives in poverty. One in eight – 9.3 million – children have no health insurance. And up to 13 million children live in households suffering from hunger or “food insecurity without hunger.”
How could the wealthiest nation in the world have the highest poverty rate of all industrialized countries? It seems asinine that the richest country in history cannot take care of the needs of the majority of its own population. But under this brutal capitalist system, it is only corporations and the wealthy that are taken care of.
In 2003, the top fifty outsourcing corporations paid their CEOs an average of $10.4 million, a nearly 50% increase from a year before (The Nation 13 Sep 2004). At 70 of the 100 largest companies, the average CEO pay was 384 times the average employee wage in 2003, according to Bloomberg and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And now the gulf between the wealthiest fifth of the population and the poorest fifth has reached the widest gap on record at the U.S. Census Bureau.
But perhaps the statistic that exposes the class structure of our society the most is that the richest 1% owns more wealth than the bottom 95% (CommonDreams.org 14 Sep 2003).
This gulf between rich and poor cannot keep widening without eventually causing social explosions. Working-class Americans won’t accept falling living standards forever. We simply can’t afford to. We have to fight back.