by Khadijah Ali (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 4, Sha'ban, 1435)
It may sound contradictory but poverty in the US is widespread despites its being the world’s richest country. This is because inequality is built in to the US system with the rich getting richer and poor getting poorer.
The American ruling elite are addicted to war — of every kind. In addition to waging wars with guns, bombs and missiles, they have also been waging war on drugs, crime, and of course, poverty that has spanned decades. But the US has seldom won any of them, notwithstanding its war on the fun-loving people of Grenada, all 110,000 of them frolicking on the beaches when the US marines arrived in October 1983.
Crime is as American as apple pie; drugs are rampant and as far as poverty is concerned, it has continued its upward mobility uninterrupted. That appears to be the only statistic, apart from the burgeoning prison population, that is rising in America. Welcome to the land of the free, and home of the brave!
Even Forbes magazine that specializes in drumbeating for the American business elite, and the Brookings Institution, another venerable club for the elite, complain about poverty in the US. Peter Ferrara of Forbes (April 10, 2014) blamed President Barack Obama for not slashing taxes fast and deep enough for strong economic recovery after the 2008 recession. As an apologist for business, Ferrara did not tell his readers that the recession had occurred before Obama took office.
The solution, however, he proposes is based on a notion that has not worked so far: trickledown theory. This asserts that when businesses make money, they will pass some of these benefits to the poor. There is no evidence to prove that this happens in real life. The entire capitalist financial system is designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Similarly, the boom and bust cycles are built into the system; the rich coming out on top at each cycle while the average person goes deeper into poverty.
At the end of 2012, there were 46.2 million Americans living in poverty, according to statistics released by the US Census Bureau. True, the US threshold for measuring poverty is far higher than poverty in other parts of the world, but for a country with the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world — $57 trillion — such huge poverty figures in which at least 22% of children (16.401 million) are also poor, is shocking indeed.
The poverty figures, however, must be seen in context, especially taking variation between racial/ethnic subgroups into account. Poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics greatly exceed the US national average. In 2010, 27.4% of blacks and 26.6% of Hispanics were poor, compared to 9.9% of non-Hispanic whites and 12.1% of Asians.
Beyond percentages, we must consider actual numbers to get a sense of what is going on. The case of children will offer a good snapshot of what is underway. They constitute a disproportionate share of the poor. While 24% of the total population, they represent 36% of the poor. In 2010, 16.4 million children, or 22%, were poor. The poverty rate for children also varies substantially by race and origin.
The table below, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010, based on figures compiled by the US Bureau of the Census (Report P. , n. 238, Table B-2, pp. 68–73), sheds light on the actual picture.
In absolute numbers, Black children account for 4.817 million poor children but the fact that the overall population of blacks is far below that of Hispanics and whites, their percentage is much higher compared to the national average as well as compared to other ethnic groups. This is also reflected in the blacks’ much higher percentage of prison population, 53%, when their total population is about 15%. This has led racist commentators to suggest that blacks are more prone to violence and crime completely ignoring the fact that for the same crime, a black person is three times more likely to be sent to prison than a white person. The US Justice system is loaded against blacks.
There is one other statistic we need to consider. Americans generally are a wasteful lot. This is evident in any kind of maintenance work, for instance. Instead of repairing a part for a vehicle or a refrigerator, to consider just one example, the old part is thrown away and new one installed. The Americans’ wasteful nature comes through in even starker form when one considers the amount of food that is wasted on dinner plates.
According to a recent study, Americans leave about one-third of the food served to them in restaurants. This ends up in the garbage bin. Huge portions are the norm. Extra large steak, extra large fries, double-double, and many other fancy titles are given to large portions of food that are ordered on a daily basis. When tabulated, the wastage amounts to $161 billion annually. This is more than the annual budget of several countries put together.
This can be looked at another way. Only $6 billion are needed annually to take care of the educational needs of poor children in the world. Another $9 billion will pay for water and sanitation needs of all the poor people. Reproductive health for all poor women in the world would cost $12 billion annually while their basic health and nutritional needs would require an additional $13 billion. Thus, altogether, $40 billion would take care of the numerous basic needs of poor people worldwide. Imagine, four times as much is wasted in leftover food in plates in the US!
Is it any wonder that the US elite are addicted to war? They need to grab the resources of other people around the world to maintain their rapacious lifestyle.
Is it any wonder that the US elite are addicted to war? They need to grab the resources of other people around the world to maintain their rapacious lifestyle. Even with an annual military budget of $640 billion, they are still unable to fight a successful war. The US military was defeated in Vietnam despite many of its allies helping it; the same was true in Iraq although they left the country devastated, and the US and its allies are about to be handed another defeat in Afghanistan.
These wars come at the expense of not only other people but also their own. The growing poverty statistics, especially among children and lack of healthcare coverage means that America’s poor are paying the price for the endless follies of the elite.