At first glance, America is perceived to be an overall wealthy and opportune country. Aspects such as the general well being of it’s citizens, income and job opportunity, and government aid for those that need it tend to equal the sum of the stereotypical “American ideology”. However, there is a looming humanitarian issue that is running rampant within the nation that many turn a blind eye to, or are simply unaware of; the issue of poverty.
In a nation that identifies with opulence and identifies as being “the land of opportunity”, embellishing concepts in which it’s people have access to opportunity and achieving prosperity, why is there such a large impoverished population? In a census report completed in 2015, the official number of Americans living in poverty was 43.1 million people, which is approximately 14 percent of the American population (Proctor, Semega). This statistic alone seems high, yet these findings do not account for millions of un-surveyed homeless and other undocumented citizens living beneath the poverty line.
To give a clearer perspective into what is considered poverty stricken, The United States census Bureau conceived that 14 percent of the documented American population is considered impoverished given a family ratio of 2 adults and 2 children whose median household income is under 44,000$ (Worstall) . This ratio is adjusted accordingly to citizens living with larger or no families at all in order to establish a concrete percentage of the nationwide poverty number. I grew up in a household with two siblings, two parents, and a median income that fluctuated between 20,000$ annually and 40,000$ annually.
14 percent are living in poverty in America, which is significant enough. When wealth distribution is taken into consideration,the numbers become quite notable. An astounding 0.1% of Americans own the same share of wealth as the remaining 90% of American citizens, which is the largest wealth divide in history since the Great Depression (Monaghan). It is difficult to conceive how such a small percentage of Americans live with such large and extraneous wealth, while millions upon millions of Americans have trouble feeding their families and finding basic shelter.
This issue is less of an economic dilemma and more of a humanitarian one. While many rise to earn high incomes through ethical means and should not be held accountable for the great divide in American wealth distribution, poverty should absolutely not be as predominant as the numbers illustrate, and the American Government ought to intervene to eliminate this disparity. This is more than possible with the shifting of government fiscal priorities, government funded bail outs for the impoverished, and proper taxation of the superfluous wealth that 0.1% of the population enjoy. If executed successfully, alleviation and elimination of poverty nationwide in America can become a reality.
The crisis of poverty reverts to the priorities and identity of America, or at least the identity of those in charge of running the American Government. As the function of government is to serve its own people, why have there been such little aggressive policy focus that aim to eliminate poverty? The U.S spends trillions of its budget on increased military and security excursions (Munoz) as a means to portray the image of a powerful force “not to reckoned with”, while the lives of millions suffering from economic depravity go unnoticed.
America’s image as a military powerhouse is not the only priority which overshadows the suffering of the impoverished; the support of unprecedentedly wealthy and powerful large corporations are clearly considered more significant than the poor. It is hard to ethically rationalize the amount spent by the U.S treasury department during the financial meltdown in 2008; an astounding 700$ billion at the initial time of the bailout, which still is being currently funded and is at approximately 4.8$ trillion today. (Collins). This enormous bailout was utilized to aid huge financial corporations that were associated with unethical and illegal practices; it was these corporations’ corrupt practices that played a part in bringing about their own financial fallout. Companies like JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs utilized the crash to make hundreds of millions by “working with hedge funds and betting against toxic mortgages initiated by the economic crisis” (Collins). HSBC Banks were found guilty of money laundering activities with Mexican drug cartels for about 900$ billion during the time of the bailout; and HSBC was one of the many corporations that received large funds of financial aid given out by the U.S treasury department, even after being found guilty of illegal practices.
None were convicted of crime after HSBC was found guilty of these illegal activities, and the company was fined a mere 1.9$ billion (Collins). How can anyone rationally state that the American Government prioritizes its fiscal spending decisions with the best interests of the American people in mind? Trillions were given away to powerful and corrupt corporations, while millions of innocents starve in the streets.
With specific figures being spent by the government in mind, one should consider how much the government would have to spend to bail out its impoverished. The poverty threshold is $11,000 for an individual adult, so if this amount was given to the approximately 50 million living in economic depravity, poverty would be eliminated for the year. This bailout would cost the government around 550$ billion (Worstall), a reasonable amount considering the trillions being dumped into aiding large financial corporations. The cost to end poverty in the U.S. is a feasible amount and much smaller compared to other government expenditures, yet no policies have been put into place which aggressively address this.
Policy makers and economists argue that by bailing out large corporations, they will be able to generate further wealth to create a trickle down effect that Reaganomic fanatics won’t shut up about. This misconception does not consider how the .01% that owns the majority of wealth spends it in ways which only circulate throughout the top tier of the wealthy, and this generated income never positively stimulates the common economy. It can be argued that instead of focusing on the economic strength of wealthy organizations, the government should consider literally bailing out the millions that are below the poverty line. This would result in economic stimulation from the bottom up, which in turn would boost the core of America’s economy (which is the majority) and have vastly positive impacts on the entire economy. By helping the impoverished population, the government would be able to lead the millions of citizens that struggle economically to gain access to resources that allow them the opportunity to provide and invest. It would have the effect of stimulating the economy from the bottom to the top. However, the millions that are crushed by poverty never have the chance to invest in a means for themselves to make a higher income, and thus the vicious cycle of the poor remaining stagnant and in decline continues throughout the nation.
Additional to superfluous military spending and corporate bailouts, the government also spends a ludicrous amount on its prison system, stemming from Nixon’s implementation of the war on drugs in the 70s. To date, the government has spent well over a trillion dollars on policing efforts that target drug trade and drug use; this includes non-problematic and small scale drug charges like marijuana use. Additional to the large spending on policing in this sector, it has resulted in America having the largest prison population in the world, with half a million behind bars for decades due to non-violent drug violations (Branson). The costs to keep marijuana related drug offenders in jail yearly is a staggering 1$ billion (Armentano).
If America were to legalize marijuana, government spending in unnecessary policing and imprisonment activities would be cut dramatically. In further consideration, the government would largely profit from this legalization. Compared to alcohol and tobacco tax rates, having legal marijuana vendors would create approximately 46.7$ billion in revenue yearly (Branson).
Examples of what America considers fiscal priorities are listed above, and they collectively illustrate an image in which the minority elite are favored and looked out for while the common majority are kept confined within a system that does nothing to elevate their depravity. American society has been lulled into the belief that the governing powers that exist function to serve the people and promise the betterment of their citizens; How can this be true when so much is spent on superfluous, unnecessary, and unethical endeavors. As corporate powerhouses thrive despite corruption and greed, law abiding citizens starve in the streets because of a system that promotes stagnation, a cycle that is difficult to break if not given the proper economic resources. How is it that trillions of dollars are used to keep millions of non-violent marijuana users in prison, while there are no financial bailouts for families that struggle to survive with little or no shelter, food, or basic amenities. Poverty is a viscous cycle, and to break it one must be able to obtain employment that gathers an acceptable income; but this is impossible for someone that cannot afford education or training that would permit them to obtain an acceptable income.
The issue of poverty in is so widespread, yet it is disregarded and not held as priority by the governing powers. Convincing policymakers that this issue is significant and worth their attention is not an easy task. Should we refuse to pay taxes because they are being utilized in ways that do not illustrate proper and ethical government spending? Can we protest until policy changes place emphasis on aiding the poor? Is the fix to America’s poverty cycle easier said than done?
Poverty is more than an economic crisis; it is a humanitarian disaster. If a nation has the means to spend trillions on corrupt endeavors, how is it even plausible that any of its citizens suffer because of monetary lack? There is no excuse for the 0.1% to own the majority of the wealth while millions starve or go homeless. If the government will not take responsibility for letting so many suffer unnecessarily, it is our duty as citizens to act. All who have the means to help those in need have a moral obligation to do so, and I believe the government ought to be the enforcer of this obligation; however, I have yet to see any effective and aggressive policy implemented to end this common despair. There is little that separates people from each other. The person begging for change on the streets in the dead of winter did not choose poverty; many times it is a factor of pure coincidence, self-fulfilling prophecies, or bad luck. How can we let our fellow man continue to suffer in this nearly impossible to break cycle of poverty, when we are aware of the government’s ability to end it?
Once the government stops ignoring the fundamental rights and suffering of its own people which they are obliged to serve, the epidemic of starvation and homelessness within our nation can be brought to an end through simple policy changes and reorganized government spending. The artist Joseph Beuyes sums up this issue through this famous quote: “He who in 1972 can live carefree and sleep peacefully despite knowing that two thirds of humanity are hungry or dying of starvation while a large portion of the well-fed third must take slimming cures in order to stay alive should ask himself what kind of a man he is and whether, moreover, he is a man at all”.
Armetnano, Paul. “Pot Prisoners Cost Americans $1 Billion a Year.” Alternet. N.p., 9 Feb. 2007. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.
Bernadette D. Proctor, Jessica L. Semega, Melissa A. Kollar. “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015.” US Census Bureau. N.p., 13 Sept. 2016. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
Branson, Richard. “War on Drugs a Trillion-dollar Failure.” CNN. Cable News Network, 7 Dec. 2012. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.
Collins, Mike. “The Big Bank Bailout.” http://www.forbes.com. N.p., 14 July 2015. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.
Monaghan, Angela. “US Wealth Inequality – Top 0.1% worth as Much as the Bottom 90%.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2014. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.
Munoz, Eduardo. “America, We Have a Problem: Homelessness Is out of Control.” RT International. N.p., 25 Mar. 2016. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
Worstall, Tim. “If The US Spends $550 Billion On Poverty How Can There Still Be Poverty In The US?” Www.forbes,com. N.p., 13 Sept. 2012. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.