Casaubon's Book

It is Poor Bashin’ Time!

Well, as the republican donnybrooks narrow down, the enemy becomes evident – the American poor. Newt Gingrich particularly dislikes poor folk, especially poor children, because after all, if they were good people they wouldn’t be poor, they’d be working 50 hours a week in some nice sweatshop!

Celeste Monforton at The Pump Handle has a nice post on the realities of the food stamp recipients Newt claims are lazy buggers.

“And we think unconditional efforts by the best food stamp president in American history to maximize dependency is terrible for the future of this country.”

It is absolutely true that there are more food stamp recipients as a percentage of the population than ever in history – and that that was also true during the last two years of George W. Bush’s presidency. President Obama’s claim that this is due to the recession is only partly right – the reality is that as fossil energies, health care and housing costs have risen, most households have a smaller and smaller portion of their income to devote to discretionary expenses like food – and oddly, food as become functionally discretionary for many people, I’m not just being facetious, although I wish I was.

For most people with fixed costs for transportation, medications and high housing and associated costs, food is one of the few things you can cut back on – which means that the end of the month looks very different than the beginning. The incredible draw on food pantries, food stamps and soup kitchens isn’t about dependency – or at least dependency on social programs. It is about another kind of dependency, on an economic system that is slowly chewing people up and spitting them out.

It is disturbing that 1 in 7 Americans will soon probably depend on food stamps and 1 in 3 children. As I have argued before that represents a fundamental shift in our culture – we can no longer afford to eat well even on the cheapest food in the world, and the US has now functionally joned other nations that have to subsidize food for its people in order to ensure that they eat. This is a huge fundamental shift – but we also know what happens when we don’t subsidize food for the hungry poor in any nation. The kids suffer, the elderly suffer and those with the strength and the anger riot.

The reason so many people (and you can see this in the comments at the Pump Handle) get so angry about recipients of any kind of aid is that we are so good at setting people against one another, particularly the weakest and most desperate people – so the barely getting by working poor hate the unemployed poor – and we feed on this just as we do on our government subsidized milk.

Depending on food subsidies should not be a source of shame as the last three presidents have moved towards making them normative, and our whole culture has worked to making sure that food came second to everything else. What should be more troubling is asking why we are spending so much on everything else, why food is relegated to the corners, and why a destructive agricultural system whose primary virtue was that it provided cheap food has become unaffordable in so many ways.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Nicole
    January 19, 2012

    I think part of this is a disconnect between the horrors of “food stamps” and what government food subsidies really are. Recently a survey asked people if they had ever received government aid and overwhelming people said no — even though the vast majority of them HAD but hadn’t recognized it.

    Virtually everyone who buys food in the US receives government food assistance in the form of subsidies paid elsewhere on commodity crops which keep prices artificially low, but the average buyer doesn’t see it, so they don’t realize that it’s happening.

    So only particular programs — usually those utilized by the most marginal — get spotlighted as “welfare” while other programs are ignored.

  2. #2 Liz
    January 19, 2012

    Another troubling thing I see a lot from blog commenters (in posts on food stamps and other topics) is a desire to differentiate between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor — e.g., claiming someone who spends their limited income phone apps or cable doesn’t deserve food assistance. Our energy would be better spent on figuring out how a country and planet with finite resources can feed everyone, not on deciding which spending choices should render someone ineligible for assistance.

  3. #3 Wiliam Hunter Duncan
    January 19, 2012

    It is curious that the Christian Right in America seem to be the most hostile against the poor, despite the teaching of their savior. That’s in part to the profound ability of the Government to subsidize a docile, entitled, unskilled people, who take advantage of those subsidies at almost ever turn, at every level. This has also to do with the modern Christian propensity to look at the Market as the hand of God, thus anything contributing to GDP as holy, and any failure to contribute, a moral failing. Thus too, leading the wealthy to believe that they are the most moral because they have the most wealth. Despite what Christ knew, that the poor are generally more generous, and better people.

    http://www.offthegridmpls.blogspot.com

  4. #4 Brad K.
    January 19, 2012

    Sharon,

    Hating the poor is part of the dysfunction of our marketed politics. The marketing wonks take the cheap route, they build up a straw enemy, paint the other guy’s (gal’s) face on it, decry the evil it does, then promise to rip it to shreds. Truth and honor have little place in American politics; it is money and marketing that prevail.

    When you decry a party for spending money they don’t have (to give to people likely to vote for those doling out the money), you also decry the “enablers” — those taking government dollars. It is tough trying to separate the message from the messenger; the need of people from the the mechanism that gains one party or another the most votes.

    Hating the poor, and their needs, is all about blithely (the word is related to ‘blithering’ as in ‘blithering idiot’) following someone else’s marketing message.

  5. #5 v-pills
    January 19, 2012

    it is curious that the Christian Right in America seem to be the most hostile against the poor, despite the teaching of their savior.

  6. #6 Richard Eis
    January 20, 2012

    Nearly five years ago, before the onset of our current recession, UNICEF the U.S. ranks 20th out of 21 industrialized countries in child well-being.

    Sorry America but you have failed. There is little else to say.

  7. #7 Richard Eis
    January 20, 2012

    Doh. My own country came 21st… and now i’m doubly depressed.

  8. #8 Stephen B.
    January 20, 2012

    Richard, I went off and found that UNICEF study and while I don’t dispute that the US has a lot to work on, I think that some of the metrics used by the authors leaves something to be desired.

    (I’d include a link to the study, but then the Scienceblogs software would hold this comment for moderation, so folks are going to have to Google the study up themselves.)

    First and foremost, is the whole idea of childhood “relative poverty.” Even as the text of the report discusses, there are real issues with saying a child is poor simply because her household only makes X percent of the national average income.

    I only make a small percentage of the average US income, but through savings and living frugally, I am anything but poor.

    Even as the report says:

    In recent years, relative child poverty has become a
    key indicator for the governments of many OECD
    countries. The European Union’s efforts to monitor its
    Social Inclusion Programme, for example, include
    relative child poverty and the percentage of children in
    workless families as the only indicators specifically
    related to children (drawing the poverty line as the
    proportion of children in each country living in
    households with an equivalent income of less than
    60% of the median for that country).

    Almost always, it is the national median that is used as
    the basis for the measurement of relative poverty. But
    from the point of view of the child it could be argued
    that the basis of comparison should be a different
    entity – the province, state, city, or neighbourhood.
    Would the picture of child poverty change radically if
    the question ‘poverty relative to what?’ were to be
    answered in these different ways?

    Little data are available to answer this question, but
    Report Card 1 drew upon the evidence available in
    the year 2000 to suggest some answers. It pointed
    out, for example, that the child poverty rate in
    America’s richest state, New Jersey, would have
    jumped from 14% to 22% if the basis of comparison
    had been the median income for New Jersey rather
    than for the United States as a whole. On the same
    basis, the child poverty rate in Arkansas would have
    fallen from 26% to 14%. Similar changes would
    undoubtedly be revealed in other countries where the
    mean state income differs significantly from the mean
    national income. Spain’s poorest province,
    Extremadura, for example would have seen its child
    poverty rate almost halved if the poverty line had
    been re-drawn in this way. In countries such as
    Australia and Canada, where variations in average
    income between regions are smaller, the changes
    would be less dramatic.

    In short, there is some truth to the fact that a poor child in the US has as much, or more, as perhaps a median child in a lower income, Eastern European country, for example.

    On another level, I take issue with how these kinds of economic studies measure material well being to begin with. Measuring how many cars a kid’s family has, or how many computers, seems a bit off the mark as well. This kind of statistic actually makes my country (the US) look pretty good, but should we care that one country’s household has 0.8 cars on average versus another country’s 1.8 (just to make numbers up) ? I don’t think a high number of automobiles per household is something to be particularly proud of.

    I don’t doubt for a minute that the US has many issues. I was working with a kid just yesterday, that is severely malnourished, whose mom is on food stamps, but, due to all kinds of social, economic, and behavioral problems, just didn’t and couldn’t do a decent job of feeding her son. Nor do I doubt that the US has done a poor job of recovering its population of African descent people from the horrors of slavery and its aftermath. Indeed, a huge portion of our poor kids live in communities of color, poor ones, either very rural or very urban, and this is something that the Nordic countries, such as Norway, don’t have to deal with.

    I’m not making excuses and I certainly agree with Sharon’s blog entry here about the idiots who are demonizing the poor. But I also think that these kinds of studies showing X country’s kids as poor versus another country’s kids, need to be actually read, rather than simply have the top, overall ranking chart cited.

    This study is indeed useful and very instructive. But the story it tells is much more than a single ranking chart.

  9. #9 Stephen B.
    January 20, 2012

    Richard, I prepared a response concerning that study, but it seems Scienceblogs is holding it, perhaps due to length.

    Sharon, perhaps you could see fit to release it?
    :-)

  10. #10 Glenn
    January 20, 2012

    It is always poor bashing time in the United States; at least when we acknowledge them (us) at all. The very existence of poor people gives the lie to the myths used to keep the rest pacified and in line. The myth says that anyone can be successful here. Therefore, if you are not, either the myth is wrong, or you are deliberately flouting the system. And we know our operating myth can never be wrong…

  11. #11 P. J. Grath
    January 21, 2012

    Isn’t it ironic that huge corporate growers of corn and other crops get huge government subsidies and that the market for products made from these crops benefits from large numbers of consumers dependent on food stamps, but that the Loud Vocal Right criticizes only the subsidies to the bottom, while subsidies to the top get a free pass? The unspoken assumption seems to be that those not in need deserve handouts, while those in need do not.

  12. #12 jg
    January 21, 2012

    As a farmer who has been on the wrong end of America’s cheap food policy for 39 years I wonder what has made food so much more expensive for the poor and yet the small dairy farmer has to struggle and is to proud to go on SNAP. Obviously we haven’t shared in the profits as much as Archer-Daniels or Monsanto.

    jg

  13. #13 Dennis
    January 22, 2012

    I’m not a fan at all of the two party system. We need an immediate restructuring of every thing, if we expect to survive. The stupid part about food stamps is “food” people can do for themselves. Chickens, rabbits, a garden, maybe we could hand out grinders and whole wheat. Let people have their self worth back. Shelter can be built real cheap if you scrounge materials. Straw bales, pallets, 2×4′s and osb, will make a real cheap house. Small slow electric carts could make transportation cheap…yes you can only drive 25 mph. Enjoy it! Even medical, could be cut drastically. Most medical can be done by a 4 year degree. The whole system needs gutted and we have to sacrifice the golden cows. Obama’s half measures don’t even begin to fix it. Reboot the system now and feel the pain or we can just stay on the train till it crashes and kills us all.

  14. #14 Neil Craig
    January 26, 2012

    The way to end poverty is to create wealth. Something Pelosi, the Luddites and the demonazis know perfectly well. There is no question that recession could be ended within days, as discussed but not disputed here previously, but these creatures much prefer keeping people poor, jobless, scared and therefore dependent on the demonazis.

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