Extreme Poverty in the United States

Walter L. Bell, Ph.D.

I recently viewed a TV special on poverty in the Portland, Oregon Metropolitan region where families were interviewed about their attempts find long term employment so that they could feed and house their families. It was the most depressing film I have ever seen on the subject. I know about poverty first hand because I grew up in a family of eight during a time when my father was in ill health due to working eighteen hour days as a contractor on irrigation projects during the great depression. We did have one advantage the people in the film did not have. We lived on a farm which we took out of the sagebrush as part of the homestead act which no longer exists. Under this act we paid $80 for 80 acres of land. We not only had to clear the land, but over a period of seven years, one had to make improvements such as building a house, improving the land and be able to make a living on the land.

In the film about poverty in Portland, Oregon, the unemployed people do not have the opportunity that we had to grow our own food, build our own house, and live in a place without the constant threat of having to move out and live in shelters or in their cars. This depressing film showed people evicted from their apartments or homes because the jobs they had were no longer available because the economy had gone from bad to worse starting in 2008 or earlier. Over and over, the people being interviewed stated that they had always worked and enjoyed working, but because of the 2000 depression they lived under the constant threat of being on public assistance which the latest US Congress failed to extend before they recessed to go home to their states. The grand bargain that Rep. Paul Ryan(Republican) and Sen. Patty Murray(Democrat) got passed in both the House and Senate voting did not include extending unemployment for these unfortunate people who will have to live out or their cars, or in a public shelter, or try to get food from the volunteer outlets which do not have enough food to go around. These people are not the mythical 47 per cent that Mitt Romney was deriding in his speech to the wealthy. They are people living under the constant threat of starving and living in unsanitary conditions. The primary reason for this problem is that we have allowed our largest corporations to relocate in foreign countries in order to escape having to pay taxes and pay workers a living wage which includes pensions for retirement. In the community where I live, we have a Wallmart Superstore being built, not because we need the store, but because one wealthy land owner got on the city counsel and was able to get approval for this ill advised project. The city violated the open meeting laws by passing this project without the people of this community approving or having an opportunity to vote on it. Wallmart is the face of corporate America which likes to claim that the United States is the wealthiest nation in the World, but that wealth extends only to the millionaires and billionaires, and not the other 99% of the population of the United States.