An Associated Press investigation has revealed that poverty is increasing at a significant rate inside the United States. This conclusion was drawn from a survey of economists, research centers and academics.
Census data show that the poverty rate, which was 15.1 percent in 2010, rose to 15.7 percent in 2011 — the same level as in 1965.
As the capitalist crisis continues and deepens, the number of people affected by unemployment, underemployment, the lowering of salaries and cuts in work benefits, industrial restructuring, and the foreclosure and eviction epidemic is accelerating. Economic growth overall is miniscule.
The increase in poverty is most severe among nationally oppressed communities. African Americans have the highest rate of poverty at 27.5 percent. Latinos/as are not far behind at 26.7 percent.
Estimates are that 47 million people are living in poverty in the U.S. This represents one out of six people.
The federal government says that in 2010 a family of four needed an income of more than $22,314 to rise above the poverty level. An individual would have had to earn more than $11,139. However, these income figures are quite low. Most families who earn more than these figures say they are still living in poverty.
The intensifying attacks on public education and public sector jobs, incomes and benefits also contribute to the impoverishment of the working class and oppressed. High foreclosure rates will further exacerbate the decline in municipal employment because of the subsequent drain of tax revenue and consumer spending.
Poverty is predicted to remain above the pre-recession level for many years to come and will increase in the suburbs, too, where it is now 11.8 percent. Part-time workers and people over 65 will get poorer, while the poverty rate among children will climb above the 2010 level of 22 percent.
Presidential election politics & poverty
In this election year, it is not surprising that this survey on U.S. poverty has not gained widespread media exposure or become a focus of debate between the Republican and Democratic contenders. In fact, there has been virtually no discussion on the deepening economic crisis and the way forward regarding job creation and poverty elimination.
In 1959, the first year that poverty rates were measured by the federal government, the rate stood above 22 percent. The lowest level was 11.1 percent in 1973.
The decline in poverty between the late 1950s and the early 1970s can be attributed to the upsurge in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, which then reached unprecedented heights. The Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations were forced to address the mass demonstrations, rebellions and labor actions among the African-American population and other oppressed and progressive forces.
The federal government implemented reforms that created Medicaid, Medicare and other social welfare programs. Affirmative action programs were enacted to give meaning to the civil rights, voting rights and fair housing bills of 1964-68.
Peter Edelman, the director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy, says, “The issues aren’t just with public benefits. We have some deep problems in the economy. … The problem is that the tidal wave of low-wage jobs is dragging us down and the wage problem is not going to go away anytime soon.”
Even Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke stated that the current unemployment rate of 8.2 percent would not improve much over the next several years.
The stagnation of the U.S. capitalist economy and the worsening conditions for the masses of working and oppressed people will not be eased by providing more tax cuts to the rich. Neither can progress be made by job creation initiatives that largely involve tax credits and other incentives to businesses to hire workers, including youth.
Both political parties allied with the capitalist class have no plans or programs to eliminate joblessness and poverty. Consequently, the solutions to these problems must come from those most seriously affected — the working class and the oppressed.
Demands must be issued for programs that will mandate the creation of tens of millions of jobs. A livable annual income must be guaranteed for everyone, as well as health care coverage, housing and quality education.
Socialism: The only way out
The economic crisis is not limited to the U.S., but is worldwide. The rates of joblessness in Spain, France, Germany and Italy are very high. The national debt is skyrocketing in European countries.
Municipal debt is increasing exponentially in U.S. cities. Many cities are facing bankruptcy and other emergency financial measures imposed by courts and state governments under the aegis of the banks and corporations.
Since the capitalist crisis shows no sign of abating, it is necessary for those who are committed to the liberation of the workers and the oppressed to raise the necessity of a new economic system in the U.S. and throughout the imperialist world. This economic system is socialism, where the wealth of society as a whole is used for the benefit of the majority.
Socialism could bring full employment for workers and oppressed people. Workers would produce goods and services that people need. Wealth, property and land would be collectively owned and would be used for the benefit of the masses to increase incomes and provide the necessary conditions for the elimination of exploitation and class stratification.
Discrimination, inequality and bigotry, which are experienced by so many groupings under capitalism, would be addressed in a socialist society. Nationally oppressed groups — African Americans, Latinos/as, Asians, Indigenous peoples and Arabs — would be able to realize self-determination and full equality.
For this to take place there must be a revolutionary party that can organize and provide the ideological basis for the transformation of society. The utter bankruptcy of the two-party system in the U.S. is reflected in the lack of real debate and discussion around fundamental issues of concern to the majority of people.
Today’s organizers must raise the need for a programmatic struggle to address the concerns of the workers and oppressed. This can only be done through a movement that is independent of both capitalist parties.