Dancing with old poverty and the new poor — still

Forrest Johnson

We as a nation are dancing with poverty.
That’s not to confuse the notion that we as a nation are dancing with a poverty of soul, that more of us appear to be soulless in terms of dealing with our fellow man. 
The reality is that poverty levels are rising here in this most affluent nation on Earth.
Real poverty. Poverty that leaves a family of four living on less than $22,314 per year. That’s not a living wage job supporting that income level, supporting those kids, trying to pay that rent. 
I thought of that as I was trying to remember the steps to the cha-cha on a recent evening, that we are dancing with poverty and creating an underclass that in reality has no way of dancing out of the shadows of being poor.
Yes, there are those wonderful Horatio Alger success stories out there. The single mom that is frugal and goes to school to get a degree. The family that has earned to live on much less and enjoy a lifestyle that harms the planet a little less than the rest of us. 
We just love to hear the pulled-up-my-boots stories of hope and transcendence.
The problem is that those stories exist in the single digits in terms of a growing population of the burgeoning underclass.
With an economy growing further and further away from our own people and our communities, the hope that a person with fewer skills or skills that don’t matter anymore can somehow break from the grip of low wages is dim at best. Senior citizens by the droves must work to survive. Poverty can strike not only those who’ve lived entire lives full of misfortune but those who’ve played the game and earned the skills and put in the time.

Hey, that’s life as they say. You have to learn to roll with the punches.
So true.
Life is no bowl of cherries and you have to make the best of what you can. 
Go learn the cha-cha and stay positive.
Immortal words but words not spoken often by those who are trying to fix a car and pay for daycare and pay for groceries and rent on less than a living wage, even in a day with seeming full employment..
This is more than a simple economic dilemma. It is a moral dilemma shared by people with little or no education and life skills and those who’ve trained themselves and been educated for decades. It is a new underclass of have nots and used-to-haves.  Welcome to the new poverty of the American 21st Century.

Don’t get me wrong. Go to rural Mexico and see poverty. Imagine the destitute and starving in Somalia . We may not understand the poverty of absolute survival. 
Still, for a nation touting its virtues to the world head out west to a California migrant farming town and see what the conditions are for the working poor that tend much of our food. Stroll through the nearest ghetto and see another side of America that is always left to fend for itself in this “Shining city on the Hill.” Head on down to Austin or Des Moines or any other meat packing town and see just who cuts our beef and pork these days and see how well their incomes fit them into the larger American vision of earning a good living for a hard days work. Stop and visit with a few of the homeless that sleep every night near the steam grates outside the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in the nation’s capitol. See what the young man who grew up without the rudder of a family life says about finding a job or a direction in life. Ask the 50-something who lost a long-time job, lost his or her health care, lost his or her retirement with plenty of years ahead of them to think about what to do next in a world that doesn’t seem to value experience like it used to.

According to information released recently by the Census Bureau 46.2 million Americans, that’s 1 in 6 of us, live in poverty.
The downward trend will slide as long as we allow the free market economy to continue to shed its social responsibilities with the very communities and workers that helped it grow bigger than the sum of all of its parts.
In any human system there will always be poverty. Some people cannot or will not help themselves. But it doesn’t say much about a grand republic when poverty affects 15 percent of its citizens.

We can extol the virtues of our free society but poverty is a moral dilemma that won’t go away.