October 27, 2000


Commentary

Working Poor The Forgotten People

by Tom La Vaut

A few days ago, as I glanced at the morning paper, headline caught my eye, "Income's Up as Poverty Hits Lowest Rate Since `79." Continuing down the page. "This is Good For America, Clinton told a group of politicians and economists gathered at the White House. We have proved that we can lift all boats in a modern global information based economy." Not so fast, I thought, what about the working poor? As I read on Representative E. Clayton Shaw, Jr., Florida, Republican chimes in, "These exciting developments are the direct result of the Welfare Reform Laws Republicans wrote into law." The Welfare Reform Law was passed by a GOP controlled Congress in 1996 and signed into law by Clinton. It imposed strict time limits and work requirements on those receiving public assistance. It did nothing to curtail corporate welfare. The article concludes, "Middle income households are working more hours than ever to stay ahead. The poorest 20% of Americans still receive 3.6% of all income distributed through the U.S. Economy in a year." By contrast the richest 20 percent of Americans receive 49.4% almost 1/2 of all income the economy delivers annually."

Study after study indicates not all boats have risen. In fact, some that were underway when Clinton took over in `93 and when the Republicans gained control of Congress in `94, are now aground. Most people removed from public assistance now work at minimum wage. As a result of NAFTA, thousands whose jobs have vanished, people who were earning a decent wage, are now working for $5.15 an hour. These were not homeless people. These are the new working poor created by Clinton's policies with the help of his Democratic and Republican friends in Congress. Rents have skyrocketed under this new booming economy. And these folks must labor 15 to 18 hours a day, sometimes longer, to make ends meet. Most are without health insurance.

In a study done in Tennessee and Texas by Dale Maharidge for George Magazine, October issue, he reports, "There are 13.5 million American children living in poverty. The housing and urban development found that a record 5.4 million households put 1/2 or more of their income towards rent or live in severely distressed housing. Often food is not bought so rents can be paid. Texas and Tennessee rank near the bottom in the Children's Rights Council ranking of the best states in which to raise a child, Texas is 48, Tennessee is 38. In Nashville, a worker earning the Federal minimum of $5.15 an hour must work 94 hours per week to pay the rent on a two-bedroom unit. In Austin, Texas, it's 104 hours. American's Second Harvest, the nation's leading food bank network gave out 476 million pounds of food in 1990. In 1999, that more than doubled to 1 billion pounds. Some people get nothing because food runs out. Second Harvest in Knoxville, Tennessee for instance, says it is forced to turn away 41% of its clients. In Austin, Texas, Capital Area Food Bank gave out 8 million pounds of food in 1999. They project they'll distribute 10.5 million pounds this year. A full 10.9% of the households in Tennessee, and 12.9% of those in Texas lack sufficient food. Texas breeds the working poor. The state is so parsimonious in social services and education that it ranks dreadfully by just about every measure of poverty. For example, the U.S. department of Agriculture ranks it second from the bottom in terms of people going hungry."

The working poor is one subject neither the Democrats nor the Republicans dare mention. There are other stressful sounds. On September 29th, NBC's Brokow reported, "In this booming economy American's are digging themselves into a financial hole. Income is up 0.4%. Spending rose faster to 0.6%. Household debt has nearly doubled in this decade to 6.5 trillion dollars. Consumer credit has skyrocketed to 1.4 trillion dollars. Savings are at an all time low. American's are having to dig into their savings to compete with rising costs. Consumer credit council in Chicago reports the number of people looking for help with their budget over the last three months is up 20%." Nothing in this campaign leads me to believe that change is forthcoming. Same old worn out phrases. One week one's ahead, the next it's dead even.

With so much misinformation being dumped on them, the citizens are as confused as a Billy goat on astro-turf. Despite all of the campaign rhetoric calling for abolishing soft money, it keeps flowing in. Last month the Federal Election Commission reported. "The parties already have received 252 million dollars in soft money donations, 12 million dollars more than they received the entire election cycle in 1996. And these figures did not include the most recent months." We are a point in time when both parties are completely controlled by the rich and the powerful. Some years ago during another campaign, I saw Clinton and Gingrich shake hands on finance reform. Nothing came out of that dog and pony show. Nothing will come out of this one. We will get that we deserve. The rich will get richer, the poor poorer. And we will be stuck for four more years with Tweedle Dum or Tweedle Dee.

(Tom La Vaut is the Former Chairman of the San Diego County Democratic Party.

This is a reprint of the same article run in the 10/20/00 edition of La Prensa San Diego, with corrections.)

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