Does the Right Grasp How Desperate the American People Really Are?
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You may have been as aghast as I was at some comments from right-wing tea party types in the audiences of the two recent Republican presidential debates. At one debate, audience members enthusiastically cheered the fact that Texas Governor and presidential hopeful Rick Perry, has executed 234 people during his tenure. Then, at a debate sponsored by Tea Party Express, some loudly cheered " yeah!" in response to a debate moderator's question about whether candidate Ron Paul would leave a young man without health care to die rather than to intervene with a federally sponsored health program. It seems the only federal monies the right wing in this country likes to see spent is for state-sponsored executions and subsidies for corporations and the wealthy.
Do you wonder if they actually know how desperate people are? Do the right wing, the extreme candidates, and the tea party policymakers who continue to advocate a dismantling of the social safety net in favor of tax breaks for oil companies and billionaires know the real state of economic distress in this country? Are they shielded from the reality of rising poverty in the United States by their own privilege, or are they rendered irrational and heartless by a distorted ideology that supports principles contrary to the fairness and equality to which our nation strives?
The Problem: Increasing Poverty and Inequality
The September 13 U.S. Census Bureau's release of 2010 data on poverty, income and health insurance, really oughta serve as a slap in the face with a cold wet tea bag. Revealing an alarming downward trend which mirrors the right's anti-people policy preferences, poverty in the United States is soaring and children are suffering the most. In the world's wealthiest nation, over a quarter of all of our children aged 0-5 years are poor and overall poverty continues to rise at an alarming rate. The poverty rate grew from 14.3 percent in 2009 to 15.1 percent in 2010, and the number of people in poverty grew by 2.6 million, up from 43.6 million to 46.2 million. The poverty rate is the highest since 1993, and the number of people in poverty is the greatest since records began 52 years ago.
Further, the percentage of children in poverty nationally increased from 20.7 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2010. The number of children in poverty rose by 950,000, from 15.5 million to 16.4 million. Children are four times more likely to be poor in the United States than our seniors. And the median income of their parents is down. Median household income in 2010 declined from 2009 by $1,154, or 2.3 percent. Those in poverty are getting poorer and the middle class is shrinking.
The conservative right tends to use our children as excuses for deficit hysteria and for dismantling Medicaid and Social Security. Yet the cold hard reality is that our children are in need of more food, more family income, and more shelter, and are getting instead only more poverty and hunger. Dismantling social safety net programs under the guise of helping our children through decreasing their future debt burden is a cynical argument at best.
In truth, it is only our social safety net programs that kept millions more American children and adults out of poverty. Government programs such as unemployment insurance, food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit on household income played a critical role in keeping the poverty rate from rising even more dramatically. In 2010, 3.9 million Americans, including 1.7 million children, were lifted out of poverty because of food stamps, while 3.2 million Americans were kept out of poverty by unemployment insurance benefits. Social Security provided a safety net from poverty to 20.3 million of us. Medicaid, the HalfInTen campaign tells us, provided health care to 48.6 million seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income children and families who may otherwise have had none. And, were Earned Income Tax Credit counted in the official poverty measure, it would show that the credit helped lift 5.4 million people out of poverty.