U.S. Poverty On The Rise - Census Bureau
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
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for release Sept. 17, 2004
U.S. Poverty on the Rise, According to Census Bureau
- Interview with Scott Klinger, co-director of United for a Fair Economy's Responsible Wealth Project, conducted by Scott Harris
Listen in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/klinger091704.ram
While the Republican National Convention in New York City was underway, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the number of Americans living in poverty increased by 1.3 million in 2003, while the numbers of citizens without health insurance grew by 1.4 million. Alarmingly, children were among the hardest hit segments of the population with an increase of about 800,000 living in poverty during 2003. In all, almost 13 million of those under the age of 18 now live below the poverty line. Nearly 45 million, or 15.6 percent of Americans do not have health insurance. This was the third consecutive rise in these numbers from the Census Bureau, which indicate growing income inequality.
Critics of the Bush administration accused the Census Bureau of releasing the data earlier than usual to diminish the impact on the November election, a charge denied by Census director Louis Kincannon, a Bush appointee. The Bureau's statistics could be important in this presidential election year, serving to focus public attention on the failure of President Bush's economic policies. During Bush's administration, 4.3 million Americans have slipped into poverty and 5.2 million have lost their health insurance coverage.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Scott Klinger, co-director of United for A Fair Economy's Responsible Wealth Project, about the Census data and his own group's study of the rise in salaries of CEOs whose companies outsource U.S. jobs overseas.
Scott Klinger: Really for the last two decades, we've seen a widening gap between rich and poor, but it's really accelerated over the last four years. The Census Bureau found that 12.5 percent of Americans -- that's 35 million people -- live in poverty. The striking thing, if you think about this is, is that 7 million of those 35 million work. So that people that work hard, they pursue what we think of is the American dream and they still show up every night at home and they can't put food on their plates and many of them can't put shelter over their heads. So, that's something to be mindful of.
When we look at the statistics by race, it's even worse. Twenty-four percent of African Americans live in poverty; 22 percent of Hispanic Americans and the kids of those racial groups live in poverty at even higher levels, something that really affects children especially.
Between The Lines: Is there any direct tie-in between these worsening statistics about wealth and poverty in this country, linking it directly to the policies of the Bush Administration?
Scott Klinger: Well, there's a lot of political rules that have led to this place. One of the most striking of which is that we haven't seen a raise in the minimum wage in seven years. We seem to be running this country with an eye towards how we can keep the wealthiest from ever having a cap on what they have, that they should have unlimited abundance. We tell stories about chief executive officers, that they created all the wealth of their companies and therefore they deserve very large fortunes. At the same time, we tell stories about those lower on the economic ladder, that if they get a raise, they'll bankrupt the economy and send us all out of work and that's simply not true. It didn't happen the last time we raised the minimum wage; unemployment continued to go down; the economy continued to be strong. There's a lot of examples and studies that have been done in cities that have adopted living wages -- higher levels (of pay) that have no adverse impact on the economy. So while chief executive officers got a 9 percent raise last year, and the average employee in America got a 2 percent raise, those who work at minimum wage -- and there's more than 10 million adults working full-time at minimum wage -- they haven't had a raise since 1997.
Between The Lines: Now statistics like this seem to me to be very important and certainly of critical relevance to the upcoming presidential election. But, I think if you were to tap somebody on the shoulder walking down the street anywhere in the country, they really would have no idea about this worsening situation. They may have a general feeling, but they don't know specifically about the polarization -- the economic polarization. Why do you think that is? Is the news media in this country doing a good job in getting this information into the hands and the heads of people who are going to be voting this November?
Scott Klinger: I don't think they are. I think that the news media is increasingly focused on showing us snapshots of daily wealth. We're much more aware of where the Dow Jones average or the S&P average is and where the capacity of a few individuals to increase their wealth -- how they stand. We haven't told the story of the broader society and our cohesiveness and what's happening to a democracy that's increasingly controlled by monied interests, both corporate and individual. These are the stories that aren't going through.
Between The Lines: Scott Klinger, as you look towards the election, how important will economic issues be in the election campaign that we are in the final stretch of right now? Has either George W. Bush or John Kerry done enough to spotlight economic problems, economic issues -- the disparity in wealth and poverty, to your liking?
Scott Klinger: I don't think either of them have done enough. The theme of this election is security. Obviously, we know it's international security, but the thing that people aren't talking enough about is economic security. And people are feeling more and more squeezed. In fact, the U.S. middle-class, the great middle-class that has made this country distinct as an economy and as a place that people want to come to in the world, is shrinking. We now have the second smallest middle-class among all the industrialized countries. Only Russia's is smaller and most people are falling into the more vulnerable classes. A few people are making it into the upper class. But we're really becoming a much more divided country, and less cohesive society, and no one's really laid that out.
Contact United for A Fair Economy's at (617) 423-2148 or visit their website at http://www.faireconomy.org
Related links on our website at http://www.btlonline.org/btl091704.html#3hed:
"Executive Excess" Report: CEO Pay Soars at Companies That Send Jobs Overseas
United for a Fair Economy, Aug. 31, 2004
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org) for the week ending Sept. 17, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.
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