Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Annual Pretense

The holiday season is upon us, and that means it’s time for our annual, national, pretense of concern “for those less fortunate.” Food banks have been expressing great need for some years now. Their empty shelves have been exacerbated by the cuts to the SNAP program. Some of you may have read about a food drive that took place at a Wal-Mart in Ohio – a food drive for employees. The Waltons are some of the richest people in the world, but can’t manage to pay their employees enough to feed themselves. McDonalds has an internal guide to the holidays that suggests employees sell Christmas gifts to stay afloat. That consumers fund a consumer economy appears to be lost on Corporate America. Over the course of my lifetime the US has shifted from fighting the War on Poverty to waging the War on the Poor.

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced the War on Poverty, which was a part of his Great Society program, a new New Deal. At that time the poverty rate in the US was 19%. New programs invested in education, medical care, urban areas, and transportation.

It’s worth noting that at the time that the poverty rate was 19%, the unemployment rate was 5.2%. It would seem that a large percentage of working folks weren’t able to earn a living wage. Spending on poverty eradication was increasingly limited by the spending on the war in Vietnam. Sound familiar?

Over time, ideology shifted in the US, and in fewer than 20 years the war on poverty was in disfavor. It didn’t work, the naysayers said – and still say. And in 1980, the first general to wage war on the poor was elected. Ronald Reagan gave us homelessness as a permanent condition, and he gave us the kind of contempt that we see from members of his political party for the poor. “Welfare queens driving Cadillacs.” The language has changed with the times, but not the sentiment. We’ve moved from contempt to outright hatred for the poor, an attitude that is increasingly apparent in NH.

Earlier this year, NH State Representative Romeo Danais of Nottingham got such a case of the giggles over an email he received that comparing food stamp recipients to feeding wild animals that he posted it twice on the NH House internal email system. Feeding hungry kids is just like feeding wild animals. Haw haw haw.

The recent debacle over Medicaid Expansion was revelatory on many levels. State Representatives Neal Kurk and Laurie Sanborn had an opinion piece published in Fosters. They had plenty to say about the many reasons why low wage workers in our state should continue to get the shiv, but the absolute best was their concern that we shouldn’t be providing help to low-income yacht dwellers. A new take on the old dog whistle.

Michael Sununu, one of the many scions of the disgraced philatelist, had an opinion piece published in the Union Leader where he compared expanding Medicaid to the “roach motel.” That he felt so comfortable making such a public analogy indicates that comparing the working poors to cockroaches was quite intentional. Rep. Dan Itse told a long, rambling story from the State House floor comparing pigs to low wage workers. The GOP plan for the 50,000 uninsured workers in our state is simple: Die Poors.

Child poverty jumped from 12% in 2011 to 15.6% in 2012, the largest increase to occur in any state. The term “child poverty” is an interesting euphemism that manages to delicately avoid pointing out that if a child is poor, so is his/her whole family. How is it that one of the wealthiest states in the nation is seeing such an increase?

There’s more. The number of households in poverty spending over 50% of their income on housing increased from 65% in 2009 to 68.3% in 2010. Our low wage workers pay a high price for shelter. The number of families “doubled up,” – living with family or friends increased 370% between 2009 and 2010. The number of homeless students in NH increased by 1000 between 2008 and 2011. Almost every NH County has seen an increase in homelessness. In Coos it’s a 23% increase. In Carroll it’s 11%, and in Belknap a whopping 28.9%. In Carroll County family homelessness increased by 44.4%. The unsheltered homeless increased 240% in Carroll County. This can’t be considered surprising, given that Carroll County is the only county in the state that doesn’t have a single homeless shelter.

The War on Poverty was well intended, but it was never fought strategically and it was underfunded. The war on drugs began in 1971, and has failed abysmally, but it continues to have enormous amounts of money shoveled at it. If the War on Poverty had been funded in the same way that the war against non-existent weapons of mass destruction was/is, the outcomes would have been quite different.

But - Americans love myths, and we cling to them even when they’ve been disproven. We love the mythos of the boy who goes to work in the mailroom and works his way up to being CEO. We cling to the myth of the American Dream, even as millions are hungry and homeless because they can’t earn a living wage. We love the myths and we hate the poor. That they can’t make it to the top is because they’re lazy! It certainly can’t be that the deck is stacked against them. We love the myth that any boy can grow up to be president. Is there anyone who thinks that if George W. Bush had been born into a poor family he’d ever become President of the United States?

The working poor are the backbone of our state. We rely on them to serve our meals (the minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13), make us coffee, sling our burgers, wash our cars, scoop our ice cream, and ring up our purchases of cheap goods made in China. The transition to a service economy means poverty for workers. There’s a lot we could do to create decent jobs, but we’d rather blame the poor. Over 60% of the federal discretionary budget goes to the Pentagon, but we’d rather cut food stamps than stop the billions spent on M1A1 Abrams tanks that go straight to boneyards because the Army doesn’t want them. Blaming the poor is better. It takes so much less effort, and it’s become socially acceptable.

Except during the holiday season, when we engage in the Annual Pretense.

© sbruce 2013. Published as a bi-weekly column in the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 


Anonymous said...

Things have gone steadily downhill on "the "small government", "socialist", "liberal bleeding hearts" right wing agenda. Clearly our nation is about as socialist and liberal as Hitler on a bad day. The Republican mantra has never changed since pre-Reagan and it never will. They preach to a fascist choir so blind and so stupid, they will drown in their own ignorance and pull us all down with them.

Steven J. Connolly said...

Can you produce any evidence that New Hampshire can afford the implementation of the ACA?
Do you think New Hampshire will be that much better off with a sales or income tax?
The answer to these questions is that it won't it will only compound an existing regressive situation.

susanthe said...

I'm certain I didn't say anything about a sales or income tax. But, speaking of regressive, here you are, Stephen J. Connolly. Perhaps you could address what was actually written?

Steven J. Connolly said...

I don't care what was actually written. I read enough to see that you're prattling on about social strata and the plight of the proletariat.
There is plenty of work and economic value out there for those individuals that actually want to work and show up.
They don't want to work. I say they deserve exactly what they are getting.
Work Makes You Free.

susanthe said...

To summarize: You didn't read what was written, you can't be bothered to, you're just here to troll my blog and make idiotic comments. Then you offer up a quote from the gates of Auschwitz.

Ignoranus: someone who is both stupid and an asshole.

In your case, I'm betting trust fund ignoranus.