The Trap of Poverty
By Richard P. Holm, MD
The U.S. is rated as the tenth wealthiest country in the world. The financial Web site 24/7 Wall St. clarifies that there are two reasons we are not considered wealthier: 1. We have the world’s largest gap between the rich and the poor, which continues to grow 2. We are the only developed nation in the world without universally available health care. The second issue of health care goes hand in hand with poverty. Poverty, not ethnicity, is strongly associated with mental health problems, crime, overcrowding, malnutrition and illness. Poverty also affects children more than others. All of us would be better off if poverty was reduced.
The U.S. Census defines poverty depending on the number in the family. For a single person, poverty means a yearly income below about $12,500 and, for a family of four, that number is about $24,000. In 2016, the U.S. Census found about 13% of our general population is in poverty. When we break that down by ethnicity, 28% of Native Americans, 27% of single parent families, 26% of African Americans, 23% of Hispanics, and 21% of disabled people live below the poverty line. Again, experts clarify that some of the most major problems in our country are associated with poverty, not ethnicity.
Contrast this with the growing billionaire class. A Forbes Magazine study stated that the rich are getting richer in a way not witnessed since the first gilded age a century ago. Josh Hoxie, co-author of the Forbes report, said “So much money concentrating in so few hands, while so many people struggle, is not just bad economics, it’s a moral crisis.” For example, the wealthiest 400 people in the U.S. now have more money than the total of the lowest 64% of the U.S. population.
Poverty is a U.S. humanitarian shortcoming within our own borders which, I personally believe, is the core issue about which our political leaders should give their greatest attention. I don’t claim to have the answers to poverty, but our country could do better in making available to all: affordable health care, satisfying jobs with living wages, and quality and affordable pre-school and higher-education. I believe political leaders should be intensely studying the issue of poverty and how to support people in need while encouraging opportunities for rewarding work. All of us, rich and poor alike, could personally try to attack this problem, especially locally.
Addressing poverty will also address mental health problems, crime, overcrowding, malnutrition and illness; especially the way these issues so severely affect children. Helping all people caught in the trap of poverty will immeasurably raise all boats and make everyone in our society safer and happier.
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