Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Poverty of America

Poverty isn’t hard to find in America but it’s very easy to forget.

The number of Americans living in poverty keeps growing and so do the lines at soup kitchens and food banks. According to the US Department of Agriculture, one in six Americans has struggled to afford food. There are three main reasons why people end up having to rely on charity to eat: unemployment, under-employment and employment that is underpaid.

In the past few years, corporate profits have soared, but, instead of lifting Americans out of poverty as one might expect, the opposite has happened. In 2008, for instance, 32 million Americans were on food stamps. Today, even though the economy is theoretically in better shape and unemployment figures are down, that number exceeds 47 million. In New York alone, 1.5 million people every year (almost one fifth of the city's population) rely on hunger-fighting charities to eat.

 4 million Americans are employed as fast-food workers and their average wage of about $8 an hour is just enough for these workers to live at or below the poverty line. The industry likes to point out that the hourly rate exceeds the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, but they seem to forget that the minimum wage is not a living wage in anywhere in the country. Workers have been doing their best to remind their employers of this fact by organising one-day strikes across the country with the goal of having their wages increased to a modest $15 an hour. So far, however, the industry is refusing to negotiate wage increases for its workers even as they acknowledge that the wages they pay are not high enough to cover basic living costs.

McDonald's gives millions of dollars to charity every year, including hunger-fighting charities, but they could do more to fight poverty if they simply paid their workers a "living" wage. Walmart, the country's biggest single private employer has a section on its website devoted to the growing crisis of poverty in America, and in 2010 the company committed $2bn to fight hunger. The fact remains that Walmart employees are unable to survive on their wages (the average salary is $10 an hour). Walmart is also replacing full-time workers with part-timers to avoid having to meet their obligations under the Affordable Care Act to provide employees with health insurance.

Meanwhile, Federal health regulators are investigating why so many doctors are prescribing anti-psychotic drugs to Medicaid-eligible children. Children on Medicaid are four times more likely to be on anti-psychotics than privately insured children. The number of poor kids on the powerful medication tripled between 1999 and 2008, and the program now spends more money on anti-psychotics than any other drugs. Abilify, is part of the newest class of anti-psychotics called “atypicals.” Though Abilify is the no. 1 drug in the country, drugs like it are prescribed to the poor in highly disproportionate numbers. The sheer number of kids on medication casts doubt on whether they’re being treated for genuine mental issues. Canada has seen its number of children on anti-psychotics nearly quadruple.

No comments: