Monday, February 15, 2010

The New Face Of Poverty In America: You Can Have A Job But Still Go Hungry

Having written early and often about the U.S.'s descent into a corporatocracy, most recently here and here, I thought that I was pretty much tapped out on the subject. But then I read an absolutely mind-blowing statistic:
One of every eight Americans is now receiving food stamps, and nearly one in four children.
The high numbers, of course, primarily reflect continuing high unemployment rates and tepid job growth as the U.S. struggles to shake off the effects of the Bush Recession.
But while Dubya will be remembered as the president who handed pharmaceutical companies a ginormous Medicare prescription drug benefit, gave energy companies oodles of special tax credits and subsidies, and Wall Street practically everything it wanted when its record profits and platinum-level bonuses were threatened, in a rare instance of real compassionate conservatism, his administration loosened food stamp requirements and made an effort to reduce the social stigma of receiving them.
One helpful result is that while Republicans and Democrats seem to be unable to agree about anything, there is wide bipartisan support for food stamps, including an understanding that many people who make minimum wage can't make ends meet. Yes, you can have a job in this country and still go hungry.

Megan Carpentier unpacks the new realities of working -- and not working -- in America in a Washington Independent piece:

* The poor are far more unemployed than the rich.

A new study reveals that those with higher incomes are less likely to be unemployed despite the residual effects of the recession. Among the top 20 percent of households -- those making more than $100,000 -- the unemployment rate is only about 3.5 percent. In the poorest 10 percent of American households -- those making under $12,800 -- the unemployment rate is 30.8 percent, yet another indication that there never has been a recession for fat-cat bankers.

* Many of the jobs that used to exist aren't coming back.

As in at least 25 percent of the 8.4 million jobs that disappeared during the recession, according to some economists. In fact, with job creation expected to be about 133,000 new jobs per month at best over the next year -- and 100,000 new people entering the work force every month -- it will take more than 20 years at this rate to replace all the jobs that were lost in the last two years.

* Corporations know exactly how much money they save when they get rid of workers.

Companies have laid off so many lower-paid workers that they are flush with cash, a staggering $1.18 trillion, to be exact. Meanwhile, productivity rates have gone up, which means that corporate managers have become even more adept at busting the humps of their workers.

* Job growth is already not meeting economists' predictions.

Yes, job creation was expected to be about 130,000 a month, but only 95,000 jobs were created in January, a sizable shortfall that could extend the aforementioned 20-year growth window into a third decade.

Meanwhile, the nation's industrial base continues to crumble. Manufacturing and the jobs it creates just aren't as sexy as trading in high-risk financial derivatives that create no jobs to speak of, which helps explain why millions of jobs were shed during the recession and most of them will be lost forever.

Then there is the revolving door between corporate executives, lobbyists and regulators which continues to spin greedily on despite President Obama's vows as a candidate to change the cultures of Washington and Wall Street, including injecting some transparency into their incestual acts.

One glimmer of good news: Rare bipartisan agreement late last week on a jobs-creation bill. The bill does not go nearly far enough to cut into the ranks of the 14.8 million unemployed. In fact, it's stingy, but is an indication that even the Party of No understands that it is vulnerable on Main Street because of the big government suck-up to Wall Street.

Photographs by Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

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