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Old 11-22-2004, 10:46 AM   #1
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The P Word

November 22, 2004
OP-ED COLUMNIST
Shhh, Don't Say 'Poverty'
By BOB HERBERT

Former Senator Phil Gramm, a Republican from Texas who was known for his orneriness, once said, "We're the only nation in the world where all our poor people are fat."

That particular example of compassionate conservatism came to mind as I looked over a report from the Department of Agriculture showing that more than 12 million American families continue to struggle, and not always successfully, to feed themselves.

The 12 million families represent 11.2 percent of all U.S. households. "At some time during the year," the report said, "these households were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food for all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources."

Of the 12 million families that worried about putting food on the table, 3.9 million had members who actually went hungry at some point last year. "The other two-thirds ... obtained enough food to avoid hunger using a variety of coping strategies," the report said, "such as eating less varied diets, participating in federal food assistance programs, or getting emergency food from community food pantries or emergency kitchens."



These are dismal statistics for a country as well-to-do as the United States. But we don't hear much about them because hunger is associated with poverty, and poverty is not even close to becoming part of our national conversation. Swift boats, yes. Sex scenes on "Monday Night Football," most definitely. The struggle of millions of Americans to feed themselves? Oh no. Let's not go there.

What does that tell you about American values?

We are surrounded by poor and low-income people. (The definitions can be elastic and easily blurred, but essentially we're talking about individuals and families that don't have enough money to cover the essentials - food, shelter, clothing, transportation and so forth.) Many of them are full-time workers, and some have more than one job.

A new study by the Center for an Urban Future, a nonprofit research group, found that more than 550,000 families in New York - a quarter of all working families in the state - had incomes that were too low to cover their basic needs.

We just had a bitterly contested presidential election, but this very serious problem (it's hardly confined to New York) was not a major part of the debate.

According to the study: "Most low-income working families do not conform to the popular stereotype of the working poor as young, single, fast-food workers: 88 percent of low-income working families include a parent between 25 and 54 years old. Married couples head 53 percent of these families nationwide. Important jobs such as health aide, janitor and child care worker pay a poverty wage."

In its introduction, the study says, "The implied bargain America offers its citizens is supposed to be that anyone who works hard and plays by the rules can support his or her family and move onward and upward."

If that was the bargain, we've broken it again and again. Low-income workers have always been targets for exploitation, and that hasn't changed. The Times's Steven Greenhouse had a troubling front-page article in last Friday's paper about workers at restaurants, supermarkets, call centers and other low-paying establishments who are forced to go off the clock and continue working for periods of time without pay.

The federal government has not raised the minimum wage since 1997, and has made it easier for some employers to deny time-and-a-half pay to employees who work overtime.

Franklin Roosevelt, in his second Inaugural Address, told a rain-soaked crowd, "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

I can hear the politicians in today's Washington having a hearty laugh at that sentiment.

There are advocates and even some politicians hard at work addressing the myriad problems faced by beleaguered workers and their families. But they get very little in the way of attention or resources from the most powerful sectors of society. So the health care workers who can't afford health insurance will continue emptying bedpans for a pittance. And the janitors will clean up faithfully after the big shots who ignore them.

These are rough times for the American dream. But times change, and the people who have broken faith with the dream won't be in power forever.
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Old 11-22-2004, 10:58 AM   #2
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We live in a country where we use food as decoration and then throw it away. Hunger is a concept lost on society in general.
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Old 11-22-2004, 11:02 AM   #3
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We had this 350 pound unemployed guy on my street, and his wife was wasting away and you could literally see the ribs through their little boy's shirt. He was such an inconsiderate hog.

In America, you probably won't starve, there are always neighbors, shelters, soup kitchens and food banks. But there are still people who can't afford a decent place to live, or their utilities. or a running automobile, or health care on their measley salaries (I have seen this first hand)
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Old 11-22-2004, 01:08 PM   #4
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Where are your priorities, so what, a few people may skip a meal or two, there are homosexuals out there that want to marry and we've got to put a stop to it.
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Old 11-22-2004, 01:30 PM   #5
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My dad's hosting a panel on poverty tonight. Should be interesting.
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Old 11-22-2004, 01:38 PM   #6
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Originally posted by BonoVoxSupastar
Where are your priorities, so what, a few people may skip a meal or two, there are homosexuals out there that want to marry and we've got to put a stop to it.
Sarcasm duly noted, and not completely unjustified. But it's worth noting that there very few politicians on either side of the aisle these days who are willing to confront the problem. To be overly cynical about it, the votes just aren't there.
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Old 11-22-2004, 01:43 PM   #7
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But it's worth noting that there very few politicians on either side of the aisle these days who are willing to confront the problem. To be overly cynical about it, the votes just aren't there.
This is true--and sad.
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Old 11-22-2004, 02:13 PM   #8
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Originally posted by strannix


Sarcasm duly noted, and not completely unjustified. But it's worth noting that there very few politicians on either side of the aisle these days who are willing to confront the problem. To be overly cynical about it, the votes just aren't there.
I agree 100%, but I think it's more of a reflection of our society that canidates can get votes for saying they'll ban gay marriage, but couldn't get votes for saying they will help the poor.

It's a discusting reflection of our moral priorities. It serious infuriates me to hear people say Bush won because of the moral vote. Just saying that is so bassackwards.
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Old 11-22-2004, 02:43 PM   #9
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Originally posted by BonoVoxSupastar


I agree 100%, but I think it's more of a reflection of our society that canidates can get votes for saying they'll ban gay marriage, but couldn't get votes for saying they will help the poor.

It's a discusting reflection of our moral priorities. It serious infuriates me to hear people say Bush won because of the moral vote. Just saying that is so bassackwards.
I'm just saying, even most of the people who didn't vote for banning gay marriage don't seem to have alleviating poverty as a priority. Even in the Dem primary, only Edwards really spoke at length about problems like this.

"People being able to eat" shouldn't be a partisan problem. I just don't think it's helpful to blame one side over the other for this until at least one side makes a serious effort to address it.
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Old 11-22-2004, 02:53 PM   #10
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Poverty is an issue that both parties should solve if they can ever stand working together. Never let it be said that God favors the rich. Never let it be said that all republicans/conservatives favor the rich. I myself favor no social class or race. There are decent, clean people out on the streets who struggle every day. Even those who deal drugs would probably not do so if they had a chance to make it in the world any other way. I've seen them with my own eyes. I feel horrible that I can't help them out when I don't have spare change. Next time I go out, I will bring a few quarters to spare. It could save someone's life for all I know.
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Old 11-22-2004, 02:58 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by strannix


I'm just saying, even most of the people who didn't vote for banning gay marriage don't seem to have alleviating poverty as a priority. Even in the Dem primary, only Edwards really spoke at length about problems like this.

"People being able to eat" shouldn't be a partisan problem. I just don't think it's helpful to blame one side over the other for this until at least one side makes a serious effort to address it.
I'm in agreeance with you. I don't think either side addressed the issue. But one side does claim to be the "moral" side and that's what I'm taking issue with.
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Old 11-22-2004, 03:10 PM   #12
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Originally posted by BonoVoxSupastar
But one side does claim to be the "moral" side and that's what I'm taking issue with.
"One side" is not making such a claim. This started as a summary note from exit polls and grew into something monsterous which no longer resembles the original notation.
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Old 11-22-2004, 03:25 PM   #13
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Originally posted by nbcrusader


"One side" is not making such a claim. This started as a summary note from exit polls and grew into something monsterous which no longer resembles the original notation.

i have to disagree. if you look at the jolt of energy that groups like Focus on the Family or Concerned Women for America or any other religious, right wing "family" group has taken from the election, they are certainly claiming that they both provided the winning votes in the election and they're now lining up for their legislative kickbacks. not all Republicans or Bush voters feel this way, but these groups only exist on one side of the political spectrum.
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Old 11-22-2004, 03:27 PM   #14
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"One side" is not making such a claim. This started as a summary note from exit polls and grew into something monsterous which no longer resembles the original notation.
Um no, I've heard churches, individuals, and politicians all over the country say "the people spoke and morality won." Even some of the individuals in here said the same thing.
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Old 11-22-2004, 03:28 PM   #15
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Originally posted by BonoVoxSupastar


Um no, I've heard churches, individuals, and politicians all over the country say "the people spoke and morality won." Even some of the individuals in here said the same thing.

yes ... whatever happened to GOP_Catholic? last i remember he was busy hiding his children from people like me.
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