Monday, November 30, 2009

Capitalism Works Wonders: 25% Of US Children On Food Stamps

THERE IS A STARTLING ARTICLE IN THE NEW YORK TIMES on Sunday about the rise in use of food stamps in the US, with 1 in 8 now on the program - that's 36 million people - and 20,000 more people signing up every day! Remember a few years back when we were told that the "Anglo-American economic model" was the road to prosperity? The essential recipe was privatize, de-regulate, and remove any barriers to profit-making and this would grow the economy and thus raise all boats. Well, we have here the fruits of that model. What a disgrace - the wealthiest country in world history where 46 million people - 15 percent - are without healthcare.
Now nearly 12 percent of Americans receive aid — 28 percent of blacks, 15 percent of Latinos and 8 percent of whites. Benefits average about $130 a month for each person in the household, but vary with shelter and child care costs...
A recent study by Mark R. Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, startled some policy makers in finding that half of Americans receive food stamps, at least briefly, by the time they turn 20. Among black children, the figure was 90 percent.
In the face of this outrageous quantity of food insecurity, it's worth noting that each soldier sent to Afghanistan costs the US government $1 million per year. In fact, with defense spending cruising at over $1 trillion - or about 36% of total federal government spending - it is easy to see how the US might eliminate the problem of hunger not only within its own borders but on the whole planet.
But beyond the institutional barriers to eliminating food insecurity (never mind poverty) in the US, the Times article, which interviewed several recipients, demonstrates that ideology is a major obstacle. One man, a self-described "hard-working Christian" has been forced recently to rely on food stamps.
Like many new beneficiaries here, Mr. Dawson argues that people often abuse the program and is quick to say he is different. While some people “choose not to get married, just so they can apply for benefits,” he is a married, churchgoing man who works and owns his home. While “some people put piles of steaks in their carts,” he will not use the government’s money for luxuries like coffee or soda. “To me, that’s just morally wrong,” he said.
But, as with this man, these ideological pre-conceptions - people on welfare are lazy, greedy, etc. - are coming up against the reality of American capitalism. With any rapid recovery extremely unlikely, men like Mr. Dawson are being forced to re-evaluate their assumptions bit-by-bit. Today it's the idea that hard work alone will keep your head above water. Tomorrow it might be that misrepresentations of the poor include him - ie. that he's not really as special as he thinks.
How this will evolve American consciousness is, of course, not clear in advance. It is something that will be struggled over with groups like the far-right Minuteman Project (and, of course, even bigger players like the Republicans and Fox News) on one side, and those who advocate a progressive worldview based upon solidarity - still woefully under-represented - on the other, all trying to win the hearts of people like Mr. Dawson. What is clear is that the longer the present crisis continues, the more difficult it will be for the centre to hold.

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