Our Dirty Little Secret: Who’s Really Poor in America?

by on March 9, 2010 · 34 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Health, History, Labor, War and Peace

monty python poorThe problem today for most isn’t this recession, it’s that except for the top 10 percent, average household income hasn’t changed a bit for 10 to 20 years.

By Leo Hindery Jr./ Huffington Post //March 9, 2010

Two old friends, civil rights activist David Mixner and former U.S. Senator (and my oft co-author) Don Riegle (D-MI), believe that in the economic recovery, not enough attention is being given to ‘who’s really poor’ now. David and Don have for years advised me — and others — on the issue of poverty in America, and they are worried that too many people, and especially too many people in the administration and Congress, are missing this imperative.

To help make their point, they referred me to poverty activist Marsha Timpson, who describes today’s poor as “America’s dirty little secret, hidden in the backyards of America’s shining homes, the hollows, the reservations, the border towns and the dark ghettos of the city where they are the lie of the American dream.”

I agree with my friends, and with Ms. Timpson’s view, and everyone else should as well, for right now in America:

* At least 50 million people are ill-fed — up from 37 million just a year ago — including 17 million children. Hunger in America is now at an all-time high, and there are currently entire national geographic regions — the very large 15-state ‘South’ being one of them — where more than half of all public school students are poor and ill-fed.

Although I myself grew up in a fairly hardscrabble environment, as the father of a daughter who was in fact able to create a successful life from the opportunities her mother and I could give her, it is hard for me to imagine what it must be like to have your child needy and hungry. Yet all of us need to ‘imagine’ this, because each night in America millions of children do in fact go to bed hungry and under-nourished, while also lacking proper housing, needed clothing, and the basic education required to develop and ultimately find gainful employment. And while I wholeheartedly support the First Lady’s new “Let’s Move” effort to improve the nutrition of America’s children, we must first react to basic hunger rather than to food quality.

For the remainder of this article, go here.

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

just my 2 cents March 9, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Most are poor. They spend money they don’t have, on crap they don’t need , to impress people they don’t like.
When people realize they are not a reflection of their possessions…then and only then will they start to see the light.


Sarah March 9, 2010 at 8:11 pm

“…every earned income level except the top 10%, average household income hasn’t changed a bit for 10 years, and that for the bottom 60% of wage earners it hasn’t changed for more than 20 years. Through economic expansions and recessions — and bull and bear markets — alike, 90% of workers in America have been standing still earnings-wise.”

I’m no economist, but I’m pretty sure that there’s a whole lot more behind those numbers than the fact that “They spend money they don’t have, on crap they don’t need…” I don’t discount the damage done by misuse of credit cards and overuse of credit in general, but there are so many additional factors that to pin the whole problem of poverty on consumer irresponsibility is a little short-sighted.


just my 2 cents March 10, 2010 at 7:38 am

you miss the point.
numbers…we dont need no stinking numbers….
try this for a week :
” spend less and do more” get back to me in a week tell me how it went .

have a great week.


annagrace March 9, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Please tell that to the Wall Street CEO’s, the Insurance Company Ceo’s. Let’s give some thought as to where we need to shine the light.


Larry OB March 9, 2010 at 7:40 pm

I read yesterday that one third of the US corn crop now goes to making ethanol for our cars, and that it takes up ten percent of our arable land. We could grow a lot of food for the poor on ten percent of our arable land.


PSD March 10, 2010 at 8:36 am

The stalks of industrial grade hemp can produce something like three times as much ethanol as corn, and requires a lot less in the way of fertilization and field maintenance. Too bad even the cannabinoid devoid variety of weed is illegal, we could then cut farmland use on biofuel to 3% and have a heckuva lot more food…but methinks the problem in this country isn’t so much food availability as food cost.


Larry OB March 10, 2010 at 11:53 am

Yes, I agree that the hemp laws are a travesty.

There is also the problem of the corn acreage used to feed livestock. It’s better to feed them grass (not the smoking kind.)


Ian Rammelkamp March 10, 2010 at 12:41 pm

How do you propose delivering the food? On a truck that uses fuel, maybe?


Larry OB March 10, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Yes, of course, and preferably a truck that runs on natural gas or a hybrid nat gas/diesel truck. Keep in mind that growing the corn for ethanol uses a lot of fossil fuel….tractors, combines, fertilizer, irrigation pumps, etc. Not to mention billions of dollars in goverment subsidies…our money really. We even have to put tarrifs on Brazilian ethanol just make our profits look real. If getting votes in the farmbelt is Obama’s goal, then I guess he knows what he’s doing.


PSD March 11, 2010 at 7:44 pm

When my truck was a daily driver and consumed enough fuel to make a difference, I had it running on a 50/50 mix of diesel fuel and egg roll oil from a Chinese restaurant in Spring Valley. It’s not hard to convert any diesel engine rolling today to accept up to a 80/20 biodiesel mix (depending on how well you refine the recycled waste oil, I had a buddy in Campo with a questionably legal home-based refinery and we didn’t chance our $8K engines against our amateur chemistry skills so the mix was considerably lower) – just change out your fuel filters because the biofuel burns cleaner than the petrol and running it for a month clears up a bunch of deposits on your tank that gunk up the system. There’s even a business owned and operated by a handful of women here in San Diego that specializes in recycling restaurant waste oil into biofuel.

I’m more on board with waste oil recycling than on growing food and intentionally destroying it in order to produce fuel, especially since corn is so inefficient for this purpose. Sugar cane is considerably better, but that doesn’t grow so well here – some South American country (I want to say Ecuador) is eons ahead of us in hydrogen production simply because they’re using plants that make a lot more sense than corn. But corn farmers have the money to buy the politicians, so we use corn here – kind of like how coal mine owners can afford to pay senators and congressmen to sell us on the idea of ‘clean coal.’

If it were up to me, a lot more stuff would run on diesel until we can effectively exploit other technologies – it’s easier to produce from renewable sources, the petrol version is more easily refined than gasoline, and what particulate matter is expelled when it burns is heavier and returns to earth sooner rather than staying airborne like gasoline emissions…waaay off-topic, I know and I’m sorry.


Patty Jones March 12, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Very informative Dave. Even if it is off-topic, thanks.


PSD March 14, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Thanks Patty. The amazing thing is that some of the most hardcore of the hardcore right-wingnuts were my co-conspirators in the underground biofuel movement when I was a part of it…in a lot of ways we’re not so different from the ‘other side,’ as the rare eloquent commenter like Mr. Rammelkamp illustrate.


mr fresh March 9, 2010 at 9:03 pm

love the picture.


Frank Gormlie March 9, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Can’t you just hear him say: “Blimey! There’s poor people in America??!!”


Ian Rammelkamp March 9, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Hahaha…. what a joke.

So the solution is to have the government provide everyone a job, a home, and health care?


jettyboy March 10, 2010 at 8:13 am

Exactly, you finally get it.


Chris Moore March 10, 2010 at 10:23 am

Apologies to John Galt, but a society’s success is best judged by the way the majority live, rather than the way the elites live. While I don’t agree that the solution is necessarily to “put the government in charge” of these things (although I could live with an NHS style system, like the rest of the first world somehow manages to do without going bankrupt), there are things the government can do to balance the scales a bit, without necessarily going all Pol Pot on us.

Most of Europe seems to manage this, without becoming a Stalinist hellhole.

Germany is an excellent example, look how quickly they came out of recession, without much of a dip in employment. Even without the help of the Stasi ;-)


Ian Rammelkamp March 10, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Germany is one of the largest exporters in the world (just became #2 to China in the last 6 months, in fact), so the falling euro is a boon to their export economy.

The recession is far from over, especially in Europe.

You are right though, there are things the government can do. Like stay out of the way, and provide sensible laws and enforcement that maximize competition and the diversity of the markets. The goal of the government should be to provide the maximum opportunity for success. Providing everyone with government housing, government food, and government health care is the antithesis of providing opportunity for success. It is a path to mediocrity, and stagnation.


Shane Finneran March 10, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Ian, I agree with you that the government should enforce sensible laws, maximize competition, and not discourage success. But are you arguing that the government should stay on the sidelines when “At least 50 million people are ill-fed — up from 37 million just a year ago — including 17 million children”?

Maybe another way to ask the same question…if you could help craft the world’s richest country’s response to the fact that 1/6 of its citizens are underfed, what would you suggest?


Ian Rammelkamp March 11, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Considering that government actions have lead to 50 million ill-fed, through their subsidies to corn, and the production of high fructose corn syrup, I would say that government action doesn’t necessarily lead to better food to feed the poor.

I definitely do not thing that the government should sit on the sidelines, they should enact laws that protect, and help inform the citizenship. The problem is that for every government action there are unintended consequences that are ignored. Government intervention, or control, or manipulation is not a silver bullet.

I do not profess to have the answers to this complicated issue, I just think that it is foolish to leave the solutions in the hands of the government. I think that an informed populace, and individuals make better decisions (on the whole) for themselves, than the government.


Frank Gormlie March 11, 2010 at 2:31 pm

A lot of us don’t see “the government” as the enemy, but as the collective will of the people. Of course, that’s theory, and in reality there’s much corruption, manipulation, there’s the criminalization of more and more human behavior (not wearing seat belts, smoking pot, being young and homeless) by government. But the government is huge. And for decades now it has been one of the largest employers, and one of the largest customers of the private section. Through wars, the government has been able to fund the war industries, has in general let the corporations off the hook by passing laws that allow them not to pay their fair share of taxes.

And ultimately we fear Big Brother, the process of our society becoming a totalitarian one. Look at all the cameras now that are out there, the government ones. At the beaches, in parks, on freeways, ….

There’s enough genuine American anarchism among progressives to want a smaller government, but smaller in different ways than the conservatives. There’s different kinds of conservatives, the GOP-affiliated, the libertarians, the “God, guns and anti-gay” sector, the corporate hacks, the true conservatives in terms of values and ideas of relationship to community vs government.

I think a lot of people, right and left, fear being ruled by a dictatorial and militaristic elite. How’s that for starters?


Ian Rammelkamp March 11, 2010 at 4:55 pm

I really can’t disagree with you there, Frank.

I don’t see the government as the enemy either. They serve a very necessary role.


Nancy March 11, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I wonder if Ian likes the way the savings and loan fiasco in the late 80’s and the de-regulation of the banking industry in the late 90’s-2000’s turned out? Govt. got out of regulating and the rest of us know what happened. Greenspan trusted the bankers to do the right thing. So much for that nonsense.

Why all the laws we luckily have to clean up the messes that private enterprise got us into? Should we throw more “information” on the masses? …who are too tired from their 8 hr. days on their feet in the retail stores, tourist attractions kiosks, etc. that we have so many of in this tourist town? Let them make decisions for the rest of us besides themselves? What do you think a representative democracy is all about.

The govt. has the programs to give the helping hand to those who need it. Ian, ever hear of the REA? started by the govt. to help the farmers get electricity. Now we don’t have that many farmers so their kids now live in the cities and don’t have the space to grow their food. Not everyone can be an academic, dr., lawyer, or other professional and what do they have left for them? Min. wage jobs working in the fast food industry. WOW!!! Can a family make it on that in San Diego with both parents making 10.00 an hr. Wake up and look at the whole picture. I’m sick of those who blame the govt. for all the problems and come back with “educate the public” and “pick yourself up and if you can’t, it’s your fault.” Life isn’t that simple.

End of my rant.


Ian Rammelkamp March 11, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Are you talking about the repeal of Glass-Steagall? If so, I agree that it is reasonable regulation to require a separation between investment banks, commercial banks, and insurance companies. Especially when money is created in the banking system, by the bankers creating loans.

The most important (and problematic, in my opinion) regulation that the Federal Government and the Federal Reserve take part in is setting interest rates. When they collude to keep interest rates artificially low, they create a situation where out of control speculation is inevitable. This is the type of regulation, and unintended consequences that I speak of.

As far as “government programs giving a helping hand to those who need it”, that is not necessarily true. While it is true that government programs often do help people that need it, they also often create a situation where people and organizations milk the system. More unintended consequences, that lead to stagnation and complacency.

This is what I mean, by government intervention, or programs, or subsidies, NOT being a silver bullet. Sometimes deregulation is good, sometimes more regulation is good. Sometimes a government program is good, often times it is bad.


PSD March 11, 2010 at 8:21 pm

You’re right in that government is by no means a cure for all that ails us. However, when one option is starving kids and the other is putting up with a few people that are going to game the system and take more than their fair share, I’m hard pressed to vote to starve the kids if that’s the only way to stop the freeloaders.


Ian Rammelkamp March 12, 2010 at 1:46 pm

How about high fructose corn syrup? Or anti-biotic laden meat?

These are things that make food more affordable. Is it worth it?


Patty Jones March 12, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Do these things really make food more affordable, or just more profitable? Maybe I’m jaded but food doesn’t seem any more affordable now with all this crap in it…


lane tobias March 13, 2010 at 3:40 am

^ bump


Ian Rammelkamp March 13, 2010 at 9:46 am

It would be even more expensive without it. Kind of like the cheap goods from china, it masks the inflation that the cheap credit policies of our government.


Nancy March 12, 2010 at 3:55 pm

So you think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater? by your statement that people may “milk the system”, so you assume that the govt. shouldn’t have the programs for the rest who don’t milk the system, which is a far bigger majority than those who do? Tell me the govt. programs you think are bad and the no. or percent who abuse the programs out there. It’s easy to talk but you don’t back it up. There will always be bad people, but they’re in them minority. More would be found out if people paid their taxes to pay for the investigators who’d find out who was “milking” the system.

Ian, back up “sometimes deregulation is good, often times it is bad. sometimes a govt. program is good, often times it is bad.”

There should be more govt. investigators combing over the defense contractors out there. There should be the draft so that they do more of what the contractors do that are costing us bigtime.
There should be more probation/parole officers out there.
There should be more meat/food inspectors out there.
There should be more investigators and govt. workers in the justice system.
Bottom line: it all costs money, and people don’t want to pay for this.
Our govt. brought us Social Security (which is not going broke but used by politicians for other govt. bills caused by the politicians), most efficient postal service in the world, student loan program (more efficiently run than when turned over to the banking industry) , equal voting and job rights for all (did you know that blacks couldn’t vote in 1964??) health and safety rules,plus so much more, that you, Ian, don’t seem to think about. What were “the people” doing about these things. Many complaining yes, but that’s what got the govt.’s attention.

Look at the difference between Haiti and Chile after their earthquakes. Why did Chile have far fewer deaths and destruction than Haiti despite their having the stronger earthquake? REGULATIONS!!! Look at Mexico and the other 3rd world countries and what’s the difference? REGULATIONS! and the handup that industrial countries have for their people.

End of my rant for the day.


Ian Rammelkamp March 13, 2010 at 10:03 am

If you are not going to read what I have already posted, I am not going to argue in circles with you. I already gave examples of bad regulations, and good regulations. Regulations have unintended consequences, which often negate the short term benefits in the long run, so we need to be prudent about how they are implemented. As I said before, REGULATIONS, and government intervention, are not a silver bullet for solving the worlds ills.

It is basic human psychology, when you don’t have to put forth effort to obtain the things you need (food, shelter, healthcare), you lose the incentive to do so. It is the reason the PIGS states in Europe are facing debt problems, it is part of the reason why unemployment is so high in California.

I personally know many people who are milking the system. It doesn’t mean they are bad people, but the fact remains that their incentive to persevere on their own merit is drastically reduced.

If you want to have a meaningful debate, don’t attribute ideas to me that I didn’t state. I didn’t say there should be no safety nets, or police officers, or food inspectors.


JPinSD March 12, 2010 at 7:17 am



RB March 13, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Obesity is a much bigger problem in the U.S. than a lack of food.
People who limit their intake of fast food and processed food eat cheaper and healthier.


nunya March 13, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Does anyone else here wonder if the real fight “in congress” is between the health insurance companies and big ag?


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