Earlier this week in the Tribune, Dennis Byrne made an attempt to dismiss poverty in America and criticize the Occupy movement by calling poverty an “overstated” problem. Using the typical conservative demon of welfare and government subsidies via research from the right wing Heritage Foundation, Byrne argues that the 46.2 million Americans the government defines as impoverished don’t have it rough enough, thanks to government aid. He asks “Do the numbers accurately reflect the perception most Americans have of an impoverished family living, if not on the streets, like starving squatters in rat-infested hovels?”
Well Dennis, sorry to burst your bubble, but poverty isn’t always rat infested hovels or bloated bellies that appear in commercials in late night television. Is that what the “great society” should truly use to measure how it cares for its vulnerable citizens? If two people in a household of four lose their jobs, go underwater on their mortgage after spending more than a year or two desperately trying to find a job that pays enough to keep their home and put food on the table, does that not count as poor? If a single mother with two children working two minimum wage jobs just to pay rent gets her power shut off because of constant cost increases, but no wage increase, is she just not poor enough? If an elderly man living in subsidized housing is spending the bulk of his income – even with medicaid – on prescription drugs to keep healthy, is his situation “overstated?”
Byrne gives credit that at least 4 percent of Americans that are from homeless or hungry households, saying “to them, destitution is real, not a statistic to be batted around or used for political purposes.” Unfortunately for the rest of struggling Americans, their situation just doesn’t measure up to what appears to be a longing for a new network of Hoovervilles. The idea that the majority of Americans classified as poor aren’t because they receive a form of government aid is one of the most overused conservative talking points during election season. The irony of Byrne’s statement seems to be lost on him.
Most interestingly, Byrne closes his piece by saying “let’s better empathize with the poor and better understand poverty. Give the occupiers credit for that much. But ill-informed rhetoric and unbridled finger-pointing won’t get us there.” To suggest that the majority of poor Americans aren’t actually poor because they might have a roof over their head or aren’t starving on a day to day basis is the furthest thing from empathy and a completely ill-informed view of the realities the American impoverished face.
The core of this argument has been made countless times before. We live in the most luxurious, safe and industrialized country and therefore, shouldn’t complain too hard because “things could be worse.” We haven’t seen bread lines yet or a total economic collapse yet. We shouldn’t have to. What Occupy movements all over the world fight for each day is a way to prevent economic disparity from increasing, to prevent total economic collapse. The people in front of the Federal Reserve each day aren’t simply spouting rhetoric or pointing fingers, they’re actively attempting to address problems that exist at the core of how our society currently operates. They’ve realized business as usual politics and economics cannot be sustained forever. We need new ideas. We cannot rely on our political system, which is so entrenched in maintaining the status quo, to do that. The sooner conservative mouthpieces realize that, the sooner we can move forward to creating a greater society.