Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

Today, October 15, 2008, is Blog Action Day, and bloggers worldwide have been encouraged to write about poverty. This post is my contribution.

First, I would like to share some information with you from the Bureau of the Census. As defined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the average poverty threshold for a U.S. family of four in 2004, was an annual income of $19,307; for a family of three, $15,067; for a family of two, $12,334; and for individuals, $9,645. According to a census summary report, there were 7.9 million families who met this criteria and who were defined as living in poverty (12.7 percent) in 2004, up from 7.6 million in 2003.

A total of 37.0 million people (12.7 percent) were living in poverty in the U. S. in 2004. That figure was up from 35.9 million (12.5 percent) in 2003.

I think you will agree these figures are astounding, and they have almost certainly grown since 2004. Our present economy is in terrible shape, and the number of unemployed workers in this country continues to rise daily. There is not a single morning that I don't read in my local newspaper about another company laying off workers, and many of these are large corporations with thousands of employees. And it seems this situation is likely to continue for some time.

Unfortunately, poverty is something that has existed in our country since it was first settled. Many immigrants who came to this great country were seeking work that would pave the way to a better way of life. But many of these immigrants, especially those who settled in large metropolitan areas, continued to exist in poverty for several generations. Some of those include the many Irish, German, and Jewish people who came to this country during the 1800's. Most immigrants who have arrived in this country during recent years are consistently among the poorest of the poor in our cities.

During the early 1980's, I was privileged to have had a job that allowed me to see first-hand how people, young and old, with limited incomes, really lived. I was required, as part of my job, to visit certain families and individuals in their homes in several states, including some located in the South, some in the Southwest, and a few north of that imaginary line dividing the North from the South. My experiences during that time allowed me to grow as a person and shaped many of the beliefs I continue to hold dear even today. Making ends meet continues to be challenging, to say the least, for most of our country's elderly and disabled.

Rural Mississippi has also experienced its share of poverty over the years. My family is truly blessed that we survived life in the Mississippi Delta during the 1940s and 1950's. Although I was quite young when we moved to the big city, I still remember the rampant poverty around us in the rural area where we lived. One thing I learned from those early years in rural Mississippi is that values don't have to be compromised simply because a person is poor. There are plenty of poor people who "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps," so to speak, and rise above the life to which they were born. You have met these people, and so have I. They have strong moral beliefs, integrity, and genuine regard for those around them. Thankfully, my parents instilled in me early on that an education was of the utmost importance. And my personal belief is that one's own will, coupled with an education, paves the way out of poverty, anywhere, anytime. I know, however, there are some who may argue that an education, even an early one, is often the largest stumbling block of all.

Presently, in our large metropolitan areas, a new lower middle class is emerging. More and more young people are going directly to work, soon after leaving high school, at jobs paying an hourly wage with no benefits, and absolutely no future. These workers, many of whom are employed in service industry jobs, are the backbone of this new class of workers who need at least two employed people in the household even to meet basic living expenses. Home ownership is simply out of the question, at least for the immediate future. If a child is born into this family, there is often not enough money to pay for child care, and the parents become dependent on relatives to take on the caregiver role.

But is there light at the end of the tunnel for these young people? My thought on this issue is that high school students who either can't meet college academic standards, or who just don't have the funds necessary to go to college, should be offered some type of technical training during their high school years. This type of technical training, coupled with part-time internships, might possibly offer jobs with improved working conditions, higher pay, and most of all, the hope for a better future.

I certainly do not have all the answers. And I don't believe anyone does. But finding ways to help this country's people get out of poverty is something our next leader needs to take very seriously.

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