Choosing Poverty

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What can we say about a country in which nearly one of every six citizens is forced to live in poverty despite the country's great, unmatched wealth?

The least we can say is, "Stop it!" The latest reason why comes in a new Census Bureau report showing that the country's poverty rate jumped to 15 percent in 2010. Which means that a record 46 million Americans -- 46 million -- are living in poverty, including 20 percent of all American children.

Meanwhile, the huge incomes of corporations and their executives has continued to escalate. CEO pay, for example, skyrocketed by 27 percent in 2010.

For a generation, notes AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, we were told that if taxes on the wealthy were lowered and government regulations were dismantled, there'd be more and better jobs for everyone.

It's not surprising that those promises were never realized. That was not the purpose of the policies, instituted by Republicans and others on the political right. Their purpose was to make the rich richer. And now, they have the political nerve to actually call for more of those same policies that brought us severe economic distress. That is, even more tax cuts for the rich, even less regulation of corporate America.


America, says Trumka, "needs to return to the principles that led to increased economic security for all and a growing middle class -- family-sustaining jobs, more investments in our future, and fair taxation."

We obviously should heed Trumka, as well as heed Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He describes the rising poverty rate as "one of the great moral and economic issues facing our country." He notes that the U.S. has the highest overall poverty rate and the highest childhood poverty rate of any industrialized country.

Sanders is especially concerned that poverty can lead to premature death. He cites a Harvard Medical School study showing that nearly 45,000 people who die prematurely each year lack health insurance and cannot afford to get good care.

Unless strong action is taken soon, there's certain to be thousands more unnecessary deaths. And it's certain that the other poverty-based miseries will increase unless we act now to pull millions of our fellow citizens out of the quicksand of poverty.

With a Perspective, this is Dick Meister.