I know people who now "qualify" as poor, according to the most recent census data, as America reaches a new record: 1 in 15 of us are amongst the poorest of the poor.
This is the news I read this morning, and sadly, I am not surprised...deeply disturbed and saddened, but not surprised. I know who these poor are, and you do too.
The new poverty is utterly democratic in its breath and reach, and these faces are not unfamiliar; in fact they are our neighbors, they are us.
Concentrated poverty has now spread outward from inner cities to the suburbs--and here, poor residents now tend to be white, native-born and educated--perhaps not the face we usually equate with the have-nots!
They include the elderly couple across the street who switch off each month on who takes the full dosage of their exorbatantly priced prescribed medication, or the energetic teenager who would love to work after school but finds no openings, and my colleague who puts in a full day as an office assistant, then heads to her second job in the evening, selling greeting cards.
Or the recently retired couple who worked all their lives, diligently putting their savings aside, only to see it evaporate in the scandalous misbehavior of our trusted banks and money managers. They are now behind the counter at Wal-Mart or bagging groceries at the Giant. There now exists an army of retired folk who can not afford to retire, and they have filled the job slots that once went to those energetic teenagers. That retired- folk army is expanding at an alarming rate as my generation greys.
The new data reveals that more "Hispanics, elderly and working-age poor have fallen into poverty."
Robert Moffitt, an economics professor at johns Hopkins University, says, "There no really is no unaffected group, except maybe the very top income earners. The worry now is that the downturn--which will end eventually--will have long lasting effects on families who lose jobs, become worse off and can't recover."
Not recovering from a downward economic spiral is a grim and terrifying outlook.
Like most in my generation, I was raised to believed I could re-bound in times of economic struggle, just as our parent's families did during the Depression.
This our American Dream, a dream that belongs to all of us, whether our kin arrived on the Mayflower or just slipped over the border last week--we all come here and stay here because we believe we will persevere, find freedom from persecution and build comfortable lives, if not for ourselves, certainly for our children.
One seemingly bright note is the fact that child poverty has decreased as a result of "the positive effects of food stamps." But working parents are still falling behind financially due to increases in commuting to work and the cost of childcare, as well as securing affordable, safe housing.
This is our America; the American mainstream is crippled and bleeding while still managing to stand on its feet, work and carry on a brave semblance of the American Dream. We're like a prize fighter in the ring, heroically still standing as we accept one more pummeling from an enemy we can barely identify.
But the reality is incontrovertible: our American Dream is on its knees, faltering, disintegrating, vanishing.
Please work for change, in whatever way you can.
Join the Occupy Movement, write to your Congress Men and Women, make a difference in ONE life that is teetering on the brink of collapse, put your compassion into action and don't stop!