If you’re like me, you probably don’t give much thought to when your next meal will be or where you’ll be sleeping that night or if you’ll be able to afford a routine trip to the doctor. But for nearly 37 million Americans, these are daily questions; living at or below the poverty level presents a struggle to ensure some of the basic necessities many of us take for granted.
The Census Bureau defines a state of poverty as “an individual earning an annual income of $9,393 or less or a family of three earning $14,680 or less,” and that in 2007 “over 37 million Americans lived in poverty,” compared to the reported 30 million in 2000. Last year 10 percent of all households were afraid that they might not be able to put food on the table or sufficiently provide for themselves or their families. These are scary statistics, yet I, as well as most Americans, try to ignore them, believing that since poverty might not afflict each one of us directly, it is not important.
But the problem of poverty, and the widening gap between the rich and poor, can no longer be pushed aside in the hope that it will simply go away or that if we ignore the problem, it will somehow fix itself. It’s time to realize that these are our problems too; poverty is everyone’s problem and the quality of life for all Americans diminishes if there are some who suffer. If there is a family being evicted from their home because they missed their month’s rent, that matters to me even if I don’t know them. If there is a family forced to choose between paying the medical bills and putting food on the table, that matters to me even if I have food in my belly.
But what can I do? What can any of us do to assuage the state of poverty gripping our nation? The solution begins, I think, with a re-examination of our priorities as a nation, as a people. We have a problem when families are forced to decide between sending their child to college or being able to pay the month’s rent. We have a problem when the stark dichotomy between rich and poor is more defined than in any other time in our nation’s history and working class parents are forced to choose between working two jobs or being able to spend time with their kids.
To alleviate these problems, more federal funding programs need to be instituted, and the pre-existing ones need to receive increased revenue support. We need to stop giving tax breaks to the wealthiest 10 percent of earners, and instead that money should be put back into the pockets of hard-working and deserving Americans. We need to stop giving tax breaks to companies who outsource jobs to other countries where labor is cheaper. And we need to erase the tacit understanding that says a person is poor because of their own faults or because they don’t work hard enough.
As an American people, one of our best attributes has been our ability to be candor and decisive when the time called for it, and I only hope that we can do so once again.
Collin Edwards is a biochemistry junior and a guest columnist for the Mustang Daily.