This was my column for the writers' group in the Spectrum on January 24, 2012
Last week I attended a ceremony at the St. George Tabernacle celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day helping me to reflect again on the life of Reverend King and the impact he had during the nation’s struggle to expand civil rights to the African-American community and the effort he was beginning, shortly before his tragic assassination, to bring attention to the plight of the poor.
More than forty years ago, along with the Southern Christian Leadership Convention, Dr. King was planning to dramatize the needs of the poor and bring national attention to jobs, income, and housing. He recognized the negative impact that long-term poverty has on the human soul. At the time, he felt that Congress was showing “hostility to the poor.”
Are we hearing voices of hostility to the poor today in this election year as attacks on “entitlements” are made by the same politicians who are intent on protecting the inordinate financial gains of the “job creators” from even the smallest of tax increases?
A recent study by Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs titled At Risk: America’s Poor During and After the Great Recession focuses on the impact of the Great Recession on poverty in America. The full report can be found at: http://www.indiana.edu/~spea/pubs/white_paper_at_risk.pdf
Briefly the researchers found: “The Great Recession has left behind the largest number of long-term unemployed people since the records were first kept in 1948.” “Large numbers of Americans are already poor.” In 2010 about 46.2 million Americans or about 15.1% were living in poverty, the number having increased 27% between 2006 and 2010.
Other data show that the devastating impact of the financial decline has not been spread evenly throughout the economy. The net worth of white households has decreased by 16% while African-American and Latino household net worth dropped 53% and 66% respectively. The unemployment statistics show similar disparities with the official unemployment in Black communities approaching 20%.
The executive summary of the University’s report concludes: “Promoting sustained economic growth, while at the same time protecting the well-being of the poor, the near poor, and the new poor, is the central challenge for leaders of the United States.”
It takes no great economic wisdom to realize that the way out of our current fiscal morass has to include reductions in expenditures along with increases in revenues. Both entitlements and taxes need to be reformed. As we delay the hard decisions the pain being felt by the poor and near poor in the richest country in the world is real.
Inscribed on a stone panel at the King memorial in Washington are the following words of Dr. King: “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”
Can we believe?