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October 2002 • Vol 2, No. 9 •

US Poverty and Hunger Rates Up

The Census Bureau reported on September 24 that the U.S. poverty rate rose for the first time in eight years and household income fell last year. That was a double dose of bad economic news that coincided with the first recession in a decade.

The poverty level in the United States is considered to be a household with less than $18,104 a year in income. Blacks had the highest poverty rate—22.7 percent, up from 22.5 percent—and income fell from $30,495 to $29,470, the largest decline in 19 years. When one considers that half the population of the world now lives on 730 dollars a year or less; the magnitude of the pauperization of humanity by capitalism is hard to comprehend.

There were 32.9 million Americans living in poverty last year, up from 31.6 million in 2000. The rate of 11.7 percent was up from 11.3 percent the previous year, which was the lowest level since 1974. The median household income in 2001 declined 2.2 percent to $42,228, after remaining flat the previous year, according to the bureau.

Census officials say all the figures are estimates

Many analysts had predicted that the poverty rate—which is calculated annually by the Census Bureau—would rise in 2001 as unemployment rose and the economy slipped into recession. The figures come from a survey of 78,000 households taken in March. Census officials say all the figures are estimates that could vary slightly from actual values.

Daniel Weinberg, chief of the Census Bureau’s economic statistics division, said every region saw a decline in median household income except the Northeast, where it was flat. (Median income refers to the point at which half of households earn more and half earn less.)

The poverty threshold differs by the size of the household. The bureau calculated that for a family of four, the level in 2001 was $18,104, up from $17,603. The poverty rate rose for every racial group, while the median income fell. The poverty rate for whites increased from 7.4 percent to 7.8 percent, while median] income [for white families] fell 1.3 percent, to $46,305. The number of Asian-Pacific Islanders living in poverty rose from 9.9 to 10.2 while income fell more than 6 percent.

Hispanics, which the Census Bureau classifies as an ethnic group rather than a racial category, had a slight decline in poverty—21.5 percent to 21.4 percent—but income also fell, from $34,094 to $33,565. —AP

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) September 25, 2002 published a summary and commentary on Hunger and food insecurity in the U.S., 1998-2000 published by the Heller School of Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, 2002. The report was grim. 11 million households suffered “food insecurity.” This academic term applies to families who usually do not know where their next meal is coming from (to use the old expression.) Families are “food insecure” if frequently they do not have the resources to regularly obtain healthy food, sometimes “do not have enough to go around,” or frequently have to resort to hunger-killing junk food.”

3.3 million families suffer from hunger pure and simple. The report noted that hunger pangs caused by a late meal do not count; it is real hunger when the pain is involuntary and frequent. Hunger assuaged by “socially unacceptable means” (stealing or begging) is still counted as hunger. But, no matter how you count, there are way too many deprived in this land of plenty.

The states that lead the country with percentages of deprived families are New Mexico, Texas, and Oregon, all states with a large population of agricultural workers.

The impact of insufficient food on children is severe and permanent. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), in a recent report to Congress said:

“Recent research underscores the critical importance of this program as we learn more about how even mild under-nutrition impacts health, brain function, and cognitive capacity in children and chronic disease among older Americans.”

The AMA expects these problems to get worse. Their reporter wrote:

“… these [the AAP} and other groups are concerned because George W. Bush favors insertion of a “super waiver” provision …which would permit the secretaries of Health and Human Services, Labor, Agriculture, Housing and Education to waive regulatory requirements for many programs at the request of the state’s governor. Advocates think this will shift money from food stamps [the most effective program alleviating hunger] to other [pork barrel] programs.” —JAMA, Vol. 288, pg. 1462 ff.

Friedrich Engels prophetically once said: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.” His statement is well on its way to fulfillment. Capitalism is proving itself to be a terrible weapon of mass destruction bringing war, famine, pestilence, and death throughout the world like the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The Editors





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