jacdon at jacdon at
Sat Mar 17 10:11:49 MST 2001


By Jack A. Smith

The Irish poet W. B. Yeats (1865-1939) once wrote, “But I, being poor,
have only my dreams; / I have spread my dreams under your feet; / Tread
softly because you tread on my dreams.”   The richest country in the
world treads roughly, indifferently, upon the dreams of 12 million
American children who live in utter poverty.  This is the latest
statistic--one-fifth of our children are poor.

Of the 29 member countries of the Organization of Economic cooperation
and Development (OECD)--essentially all of the states comprising the
industrialized world--the U.S. has the highest rate of child poverty
(20.3%), according to a report last month by the respected Luxembourg
Income Study, “Child Well-Being, Child Poverty and Child Policy in
Modern Nations.” The next highest OECD child poverty rates were 19.5%
(Italy), 16.2% (United Kingdom) and 12.7% (Poland).  The lowest rates
were in Sweden (2.4%),  and Finland and Norway (under 4% each).
Non-OECD member Russia had a child poverty rate of 23.2%--several times
higher than a decade ago before the transition to capitalism.

The same study reveals that New York State suffers the worst child
poverty rate in the country--26.3%, a 6% increase in the last 20 years.
California is second with 25.7%.  These figures were compiled in the
last two years at a time when the national economy soared to record
heights and when the richest Americans enjoyed a standard of living
unparalleled in human history. The New York Times reported Feb. 26 that
“at least 12 million people--including at least a million children--are
not receiving food stamps even though they are eligible.”  This is
largely because of bureaucratic red tape or government policies of
keeping the poor ignorant of their rights, thanks to Bill Clinton’s
cruel decision to “end welfare as we know it.”  The Census Bureau notes
that “9.7% of all [American] households cannot reliably afford all their
basic food needs.”  That’s many millions of more children, including
those from families living above the poverty line but unable to afford
adequate food supplies.

According to new guidelines from the Department of Health and Human
Services, the poverty line for a family of three (often one adult and
two children) is  $14,630 a year, or $281 a week.  In 1998, the
after-tax income of the richest 1% of the American people increased
three times the rate of the bottom 90%. Under George W. Bush’s tax-cut
plan, a single person earning $1 million a year will get an extra
$46,758 annually when the plan is fully implemented--3.2 times the
poverty line for a family of three. If you are earning a poverty-level
wage, you get back an extra $0.00.  (The Republicans counter that the
rich deserve this enormous tax break because they pay much more in taxes
than the poor who don’t pay income taxes--concealing that a poor family
pays the same rate in sales taxes as a rich family and that people with
a low income contribute payroll taxes at a significantly higher rate
than the rich.)  The Bush proposal will lower the highest tax rate from
39.6% to 33%. Forty years ago, the highest tax rate was 91%.  If the tax
on wealthy individuals and corporations was as high today as in the
immediate 15 postwar years, child poverty in our country could be
eliminated.  Not only that, but the American people would be able to
enjoy  affordable, high-quality universal healthcare, a national daycare
system for every child, decent housing for all citizens,  an excellent
public school system, and greatly enhanced social benefits in every

What do we make of a government which presides with haughty disinterest
over  this “ultimate form of violence" (as Gandhi described mass
poverty) deployed daily against 12 million American children? According
to opinion polls quoted in Harper’s Magazine, “54% of Americans say that
the U.S. government is no longer  of, by, and for the people.”  Well,
that’s a start, but hardly adequate to the reality that the wealthy
people in our country, through their minions in government, have been
waging an intensified class war against working people for the last 25
years, resulting in the staggering disparity of riches in the U.S.
today.    The poet Yeats also wrote, “Things fall apart; the center
cannot hold....”  In terms of the democratic goal of general
equality--which must include relative income equality  or it’s a
sham--things are falling apart in our society.  How long can the center
hold--and what are we going to do about it?

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