By Tom Kando
The Census Bureau recently released data showing that 51 million Americans are “near-poor.” (See Sacramento Bee, Nov. 19, 2011). Add these to the 50 million who are BELOW the poverty line, and you get a total of 100 million Americans - one third! - who live in poverty or are barely above.
The near-poor are not your stereotypical and dysfunctional underclass: half of them live in households headed by a married couple, 28% have full-time jobs, 42% have private health insurance, nearly half are white, 18% are black and 26% are Latino. Many of them own homes.
I don’t mean to rehash the universally recognized polarization of income and wealth in America, and the growth of poverty. What galls me is the callous response by the rest of America, as witnessed by the right-ward political trend, the Tea Party and Republican electoral gains.
I see this all around me, sometimes at a personal level, sometimes in the angry responses to our blog. I know many people who live extremely comfortably on $150,000 to $200,000 a year. People who are now retired from life-long, well-paying professional jobs, some private, many public. People who enjoy excellent pensions, many of them public. Many of these people are double and triple dippers: They receive a state pension, plus social security, sometimes combined with a federal retirement benefit as well. They own their houses free and clear. They go on cruses to Tahiti, the Mediterranean, Saint Petersburg, they travel overseas two or three times a year, domestically many more times, they refurbish their half million dollar homes, they drive Lexuses and Mercedes.
And then, you hear them talk:
“Most of our problems are caused by the government! The government is corrupt and incompetent! Income taxes are a rip-off! Social Security and pension systems are a boondoggle! Obamacare is socialism and unconstitutional!”
And they go on ranting:
“Those damn young people today! They’re making a mess of things! They have lost all sense of individual responsibility! Those lazy college kids, who want a free education. And the Occupy Wall Street bums! When we grew up, we knew that there is no free lunch! We didn’t expect government hand-outs. We relied on ourselves!”
On a personal note, I find it obscene to hear such tired old lectures about self-reliance, and pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, especially coming from people who overcame far less hardship than I have. I stepped off the boat in New York as a teenager in 1960, with $25.00 in my pocket. I didn’t know a single soul in the New Land. One of my first nights in New York, I slept on a bench Central Park. Later, I got myself a PhD and became a university professor. So don’t lecture me about individual effort. But must it exclude compassion for others?
And then, I have to hear that today’s young people deserve what they get. That they shouldn’t expect anything from the older generation.
But who has been living high on the hog since World War Two? Which generation has bankrupted the country, making us indentured servants of China?
To these people, any mention of income re-distribution, mutual aid, raising taxes on the rich and on corporations is anathema. A stupid “kumbaya” idea, as one of them said recently to me.
I used to think that this mentality was due to brainwashing. But now I believe that there is more to it than that: These affluent older folks WANT to believe these things. They WANT to believe that if you are poor, it’s your own fault. This conveniently supports their selfishness.
Those who have struggled the most tend to have the greatest compassion in their heart. But these people have had it relatively easy. They have enjoyed family money and other perks. They have never known true hardship. Yet they preach individual responsibility to others. What hypocrisy! leave comment here
Sunday, November 27, 2011
By Tom Kando