There are times when a story in the news just makes one stop with a righteous indignation.The news I heard today that one in two Americans is now classified as poor makes me angry.
This means half of the people living the richest nation in the world are poor. Is this the American exceptionalism we want?
I am angry because this is a not necessary. I am angry that so many people are suffering, while our elected officials are playing games, unable or unwilling to do what is necessary to promote the general welfare of the nation.
As I write this our inept Congress is yet again careening toward what may be a shut-down of the federal government because the House of Representatives has passed a proposal that its leaders know is unacceptable to either the majority of the Senate or to President Obama.
The president has asked for an extension of the payroll tax cut, but the House bill includes it with a cut in unemployment benefits with new rules on what the federal government will require for people to receive the benefits, and a freeze on the pay of federal workers. The House has also attached a provision that would approve the building of an oil pipeline from Canada to the gulf coast that environmentalists oppose, and a provision that would block some air pollution regulations.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau report, people are falling into poverty because of the weakening of the social safety net in the United States. When Congress members stand up and say the problem with the fiscal health of the country is spending and therefore cuts must be made to entitlement programs, real people suffer.
At the same time, these very same Congress members will do nothing to raise more revenue by asking the rich to pay higher taxes or to close loop-holes that allow corporations that make billions of dollars a year to pay no taxes at all.
This is shameful.
People are falling into poverty because of pay cuts, reduced work hours, housing and child-care costs. They are also falling into poverty because of increased health-care costs.
The weakest segments of the society make up the poorest people — elders and children. And while we read about these facts, we also read about Congress members who want to cap the amount of money we give to Medicare recipients to help them live healthier lives. A few weeks ago, the television news program 60 Minutes told the story of homeless families who live in their cars and vans.
This is structural violence. This is a sin and a shame.
This situation is not difficult to correct. Taxes on the rich are as low as they have been in decades. Raising taxes on the rich is not divisive, rather it is a necessary correction for an economic system that sends most of the money to the top. There are many reasons for this including the decline of unions in this country.
Now that we are out of Iraq (for the most part) we can spend the money we were spending on this war on building low and mixed income housing. This would also put people to work. There can be public-private partnerships to provide affordable child care for working families. This would also provide jobs.
There ought to be more money spent on food stamps so that no one in America goes to bed hungry. And rather than restricting Medicare, we need Medicare for all so that health-care costs do not send people into poverty.
The current situation is simply unacceptable.
Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.