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Children on Food Stamps - What Does it Mean for America? - Solidarity America - By John Funiciello - Columnist


A recent analysis of three decades of data reveals that - surprise - lots of children in America will have been on food stamps at some time in their lives: 49 percent of all children and a whopping 90 percent of black children.

This has to do with two things: Poverty and economic injustice.

It may have been a bit of hyperbole back in the Sixties when these things were actually being debated in public forums at the highest levels of government, but it still is true - poverty kills, as surely as lack of health care kills.

More to the point, poverty stunts growth, physical and intellectual, and it stunts the communities where poor people live. And, poverty debilitates. The seeming impossibility of progress in education, employment, and family life causes young people to reduce their aspirations or even give up.

There are organizations and groups and projects in both urban and rural areas, among people of every description, working to solve monumental problems that are complex. They can�t be solved just by bringing in a few jobs, by sprucing up the local school, by concentrating on renovating housing.

All of these are good, and the press and other media grab onto these as if they are a sign that things are turning around and, to a small extent, that�s right. But all of the problems - and they are legion - need to be tackled at the same time.

Highlighting a single project now and then tends to lead people who read newspapers and watch TV news to believe that something is being done to change the lives of millions who are suffering from their own poor health and that of their communities.

But this effort needs to be approached as a crisis and it needs to be debated in the state legislatures and in the Congress. It needs to be seen as a national emergency that is more than an earthquake on the West Coast or a hurricane on the Gulf Coast. This one affects most communities in all 50 states and its impact on the nation is profound. No one escapes its effects.

It�s clear that a new project at the federal level needs to be initiated to combat hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. The proof, if one needs it, is the study that was released this month. It has been nearly 50 years since America viewed with alarm the poverty that was in all parts of the nation and resolved to do something about it.

Programs were created to deal with poverty and its accompanying ills. Over the years, the relentless pounding anti-poverty advocates took from those who oppose all such programs, saw that the programs faded into bureaucracy, with much of the budget going to police the proper forms and causing the citizens who might benefit to be humiliated and exhausted, trying to get a small measure of relief.

Now, things look even bleaker for the poor. For several decades, Corporate America has been shipping jobs to countries where the people are forced to work at unspeakably low wages, largely to benefit some of the most powerful companies in the world.

The result of that has been the greatest disparity in wealth since the Great Depression. Now, we�re in the �Great Recession� and we have been treated to more of the same - billions to the rich and the corporations, very little to the people.

Considering the bonuses that have been handed out by some of America�s biggest corporations, even as �stimulus� (taxpayers�) money has been passed around like cheap candy at Halloween, it doesn�t look as if much help will be coming from government for people trapped in poverty and the very low prospect of a decent-paying job in the future.

Even some of the strongest advocates of capitalist rapacity have called for the creation of more jobs, but they never say what the quality or character of those jobs are. They just want to be on the record as being �for jobs.� It�s clear to those who try to bring some measure of justice to the American workplace the kind of jobs that are being sought by Corporate America: low wages, few benefits, employed at will, no pension for old age, and no expectation of being employed next month, let alone next year.

What they�re doing is re-importing the employment policies that they use in developing countries (where tens of millions work for a few dollars a day) back into the U.S., just in case anyone missed the technique.

The study cited earlier tracked 4,800 households from 1968 through 1997, to come up with the percentages of children who qualified for food stamps. Mark Rank, a sociologist from Washington University in St. Louis, the lead author of the study, was quoted by the Associate Press as saying that the high percentage of children who qualify is a medical issue for pediatricians, �because children on food stamps are at risk for malnutrition and other ills linked to poverty.�

Rank said, �This is a real danger sign that we as a society need to do a lot more to protect children.�

The question is: What will be done?

We know what should be done. Poverty debilitates, it stunts, and it even kills. As a nation, we need to start the process of eradicating poverty and more lip service won�t do.

Before us, right now, is a shining example of how America does not deal with its problems. The lack of a cohesive, comprehensive health care system for all is appalling to most citizens of other countries who have had such a system for generations. No one left out.

In the U.S., it seems, people can be left out and, if they are, they brought it on themselves. We use terms like �deserving poor.� Then, the question remains, who makes the determination about who deserves relief from poverty or relief from illness, injury, or disease?

One of the glaring characteristics of the U.S. is its ability to leave millions of its citizens behind, its ability to leave citizens out, to leave them on their own - sink or swim, survive or die. It may be something in the national character that allows this attitude to flourish, believing that there is such a thing as �the deserving poor.� In the end of the great American debate, there don�t seem to be many �deserving poor.�

In what has passed for a healthcare debate, there is no lack of people - many of whom have all the health care they need - lining up at the microphones to give their opinions about who should have health care and who should not.

In the debate on what to do about poverty and the very real unhealthy outcomes of such a persistent problem, there have been no crowds gathered to denounce programs to alleviate poverty, because there is little or no debate. The problem is ignored, so it doesn�t exist. There are too many other problems, so the plight of possibly a quarter of our population just isn�t high up on the list of priorities.

With unemployment soaring among young African-Americans - approaching 30 percent - and general (real) unemployment approaching 20 percent, we can look forward to a new wave of poverty and problems on top of the one we�ve largely ignored for the past 40 years.

For those who can retreat to their gated communities and quiet suburbs, it may seem that the problem can be ignored for years more. For the rest of us, the problem needs to be addressed now. But, for the former, they too have to come out into the real world from time to time.

Let the study on food stamps be a warning and a call to action, that the nation needs to address the effects of its people in poverty on the very health of the society. Use the study to acknowledge the problem, then start the debate, because neither war nor economic depression will be able to match the debilitating effects of the increase in poverty and sickness among increasing numbers of our people. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer. His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.


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November 12 , 2009
Issue 350

is published every Thursday

Executive Editor:
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield
Peter Gamble
Est. April 5, 2002
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