Sunday, September 18, 2011

Them what has, gets . . .

POVERTY ABOUNDS in the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free, as this Doonesbury oeuvre illustrates. Consciousness of this problem has even reached the Indian press, as Sudheendra Kulkarni's article "Poverty in America", posted at discusses the ramifications.

New York: People in India have traditionally viewed the United States of America as a synonym for prosperity. The allure of the American Dream had made many educated and aspiring Indians believe that it was a land of ever-expanding opportunities for wealth creation. The dream survived for several decades. It cannot any longer.

America is getting poorer. And it’s official. The US Census Bureau reported on Tuesday that joblessness and economic stagnation have pushed as many as 46.2 million—almost one in six Americans—below poverty line. Last year alone, the number of those living in poverty swelled by 2.6 million, the largest increase seen since the government began calculating poverty figures in 1959. The worst affected are children. Nearly one in four of those under 18 years are now living in poverty. Over 20 million American children depend on school meal programmes to escape hunger.

Of course, the poor in America do not suffer the same kind of deprivation as the poor in India. US poverty line means an income of $11,139 for one person and $22,314 for a family of four. Convert that into rupees, and one is tempted to think that people with so much income cannot really be considered poor. Many poor families in America have air-conditioning, microwaves, cable or satellite TV, etc. However, measured on the basis of their access to three critical requirements of life—food, education and healthcare—their pain becomes palpable. One in six Americans does not have enough food to eat, and lives on food stamps. Fifty million Americans do not have any health insurance. For such people, a single incidence of major illness could easily wreck their finances. Privately run schools, colleges and universities in America are the envy of the world. However, they are so expensive that poor students cannot even dream of going to these institutions. Scholarships are getting harder to get. Meanwhile, as in India, the quality of education in government-funded schools is so poor that students from low-income families cannot compete with their rich counterparts in the market for high-paying jobs.

America will do itself and the world a lot of good by redefining the path and purpose of economic growth. Specifically, it should move away from its consumerism-driven, debt-enhancing, utterly unsustainable and spiritually impoverishing growth model to one that is savings-driven and need-based. In making this transition, it will certainly undergo much pain.

Progressive sites are aware of these challenges; they are not new, but it is interesting to read a 3rd world viewpoint of American social discord and economic problems. Pain is weakness leaving the body, they say.

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