Be very thankful you’re not poor
You want something to be thankful for today?Be thankful you’re not poor.Sure, some of you may be a little hard up, times are tough – but I’m guessing that the great majority of the people who read this column in The Aspen Times are not poor … not anywhere near poor.What’s “poor”?Well, according to official statistics, this year in the United States, you’re “poor” if you’re an individual trying to get by on an income of less than $9,570 a year.Anyone here fall into that category?Anyway, as we stuff ourselves today, we might try to think all the way back a couple of months to that inconvenient hurricane that wiped out New Orleans.One of the things the hurricane revealed – aside from massive incompetence in government at all levels – was the staggering poverty of so many people in that city.In his speech on Sept. 15, President Bush acknowledged that poverty and said it was important for America to work to improve the situation. He focused his comments that day on the region hit by the hurricane – but eliminating poverty certainly should be a goal for this entire great nation.Shouldn’t it?I mean, I certainly think it should be, but I’m one of those damned liberals.However, in the immediate wake of the hurricane, a lot of conservative commentators were declaring that the situation only proved that government attempts to eliminate poverty were hopeless. “We’ve been fighting poverty for 40 years,” they said, “and this is what we get. Government can’t solve the problem.”As conservative humorist P.J. O’Rourke has said, “You can’t get rid of poverty by giving people money.” Clever. Amusing. But actually, the official Republican position on the matter seems to be that you can get rid of poverty by giving rich people money.That, after all, is the logic behind the idea that the solution to all our problems is cutting taxes.Economy faltering? Cut taxes. Economy growing? Cut taxes. Terrorist attack? Cut taxes. Nasty sinus infection? Cut taxes. Five generations mired in poverty? Cut someone else’s taxes.Does that actually work?Well, no. Not really, but as cheating husbands and Republican politicians like to say, “Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?”Just for fun, let’s look at some actual statistics. (I know, “Yuk!” But bear with me.)If you look at the percentage of U.S. families living below the poverty line, an interesting fact emerges: Poverty generally goes down when a Democrat is president and goes up, or stays pretty much the same, when there’s a Republican in the White House.When John F. Kennedy took office in 1961, 18.1 percent of U.S. families were below the poverty line. When Lyndon Johnson finished his term at the end of 1968, that percentage had dropped to just 10.0 percent.Over the next eight years, under Nixon and Ford, the poverty level rose a little, then dropped a little, and wound up just about half a percentage point lower, 9.4 percent.Jimmy Carter had a hard time. In his first three years, he cut the poverty level by a couple of tenths of a percent, but in his last year in office it leaped up to 10.3 percent.Then Ronald Reagan took over. By the end of his first year in office, that poverty rate had climbed from 10.3 to 11.2 percent. Over the next couple of years, it kept on climbing, up to 12.3 percent. Then it dropped again until, by the end of Reagan’s eight years in office, it stood at 10.4 percent – just about exactly where Carter had left it.Under George H.W. Bush, that rate rose again, from 10.4 to 11.5 percent.Under Bill Clinton, the poverty rate went up for one year and then started to fall. By the time Clinton left office at the end of 2000, the poverty rate was down to 8.7 percent.Care to guess what happened next?In George W. Bush’s first four years in office, the percentage of American families living in poverty went up from 8.7 to 9.2, then 9.6, then 10.0 and finally, for 2004, it hit 10.2 percent. So, does fighting poverty work?Sure … but only if you actually try.Happy Thanksgiving.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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