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The Real State of the Union
A Nation in Crisis, an Economy in Disaster,
Soaring Poverty, Hunger, and Homelessness

by Jay Shaft

www.dissidentvoice.org
January 22, 2004

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George Bush went on TV Tuesday night and told us all how good it is in America thanks to all the things he has done. He painted a rosy picture of economic recovery, renewed prosperity, new job growth, and many victories in the war on terror.

The facts he presented to America did not even remotely resemble the true facts behind the greatest crisis America has ever faced. No matter how he described the current situation in America, nothing he said came close to the truth about the real state of the union.

The facts Bush used to show how great we are doing are just so many more lies and deceptions on top of an already long list of betrayals and deceits that he has committed against the country as a whole.

Letís forget for a moment any myths the current administration is trying to get us to swallow. Letís instead look at the real facts and figures that every American should be aware of. Letís look at the current poverty rate, job situation, economic forecast, rise in the homeless population, and decline of our whole system of government.

I am going to present the true facts from both government and private organizations. I will let you be the judge of the current state of the union after you have seen the stark, cold facts of how bad it really has become in our great nation.

Poverty Rates Soar Under Bush

Letís start with the increase in the poverty levels in the first three years of the Bush administration. Since 2001 there has been at least an 8% rise in the number of families living in poverty. Since 2001 many social service agencies and government agencies have reported a 25-30% increase in the amount of families reporting their income as being within borderline poverty levels.

According to federal guidelines the poverty level for a family of four is income under $18,400 a year. For a single person the poverty level is income under $8,980 a year. For a single parent with one child the poverty level is $12,120. Federal guidelines state that borderline poverty levels are an average income of within $200 a month of the poverty level.

With the economic downturn of the past few years, unemployment and underemployment are higher than they have been in nearly a decade. The number of children living in low-income families is going up every month.

Low income is defined as up to twice the federal poverty level, or $36,800 for a family of four.

There are at least 26.5 million children living in low-income families. Children represent a disproportionate share of the poor in the United States; they are 25.6% of the total population, but 36.9% of the poor population.

As low-income families increase their earnings, they rapidly lose eligibility for assistance such as childcare subsidies and health benefits. It is not until a two-parent family of four reaches roughly $36,500 a year in income that parents can provide the basic necessities for their children. Thatís double the federal poverty level.

There is a very in-depth report called Parental Employment in Low-Income Families that was released by the National Center for Children in Poverty. This report has a breakdown of income levels, work records, and some solutions to the problem of children living in low-income families.

The poverty rate in 2000 was 11.3%, but there was a huge gap between minority and non-minority incomes. The poverty rate for African-Americans was 23.6% compared to 7.7% for whites, with an overall rate for minorities that was three times higher on a national average. The 2000 figures were the lowest in recorded history and indicated the trend of yearly decreases in poverty starting in 1993.

In 2001 the poverty rate went up to 11.7%, with a general decrease in median income for the first time in 8 years. In 2001 there were 32.9 million people in poverty, an increase of 1.3 million from 2000.

At first this small rise in poverty did not get much notice, but it affected large segments of the population, regardless of race, or economic class. In 2001 there were 6.8 million families living in poverty. There were 13.4 million people living in severe poverty, which means they make less than half of the federal poverty level.

This was just the first sign of the looming economic crisis under the Bush administration. It was initially blamed on an economic slowdown that began under Bill Clinton. The actual recession did not start until March of 2001.

The poverty rate went up to 12.1% in 2002, with 1.7 million new cases equaling 34.6 million people living in poverty. In 2002 there were 7.2 million families living in poverty. There were 14.1 million people living in severe poverty. There were an additional 12.5 million people living just above the borderline of poverty in 2002, the same amount as in 2001. (http://www.census.gov/hhes/poverty/poverty02/pov02hi.html

The poverty rate increased in the Midwest in 2002, accounting for all the increase in cases of poverty. The poverty rates for the rest of the country did not increase in 2002. The Midwest has been the hardest hit by the poverty increases of the last three years

There were over 14 million children living in poverty in 2002. Estimates for 2003 put the amount of children in poverty at over 15.5 million. There were at least another one million children who slipped into poverty in 2003. Official government figures have not been released yet, but many private agency reports and surveys have been.

There are no exact figures for the poverty increase in 2003, but initial reports have pointed to a 13-13.5% rate of poverty for 2003. The government figures will not be out until September 2004, but many private agencies have complied shocking figures when it comes to new cases of poverty.

Many agencies I spoke to are estimating between 13-13.5% poverty rates for 2003. Figures for the first six months of 2003 have already shown that the poverty rate is at least 12.5-13%.

It certainly looks like these figures are accurate. While unemployment has not risen, many people are now working for temporary employment agencies or for day labor agencies. After losing full time employment many workers turn to temp agencies and day labors when they are not able to find another full time job.

Social service agencies and agencies that provide aid to the poor and low income reported a 20% or greater increase in requests for services in 2003. The homeless rate went up by 17-22% in all reporting cities this year, and the growth rate of poverty usually reflects any increase in homelessness.

In 2003 41% of households with children reported one or more of the three targeted housing problems: crowded housing, physically inadequate housing, or paying more than 30% of the household income for rent, mortgage, or housing costs. In 2003 6.9 million low income households paid more than 50% of their household income towards rent or house payments. US HUD has stated that a household should not have housing costs that exceed 30% of total household income. (US Housing and Urban Development)

I have contacted social service agencies in 15 major US cities. All have recorded an increase in the amount of children with families reporting their income as being below the poverty level.

Every agency I spoke to stated that there was at least a 20% increase in the amount of families reporting their income as below poverty level. Some of the agencies I talked to have charted a 40-50% increase in clients reporting poverty and low income levels since 2002. Every agency had at least a 20% increase in requests for services by families and adults who claimed to be in poverty or at the borderline of poverty.

From the figures I recently collected it appears that 20% of the nations children live in poverty, and another 40% of children live at the borderline of poverty or in low income families. The rise in unemployment, lack of full time work, higher debts due to lack of employment, decrease in salary, and rental or mortgage increases were the main reasons many people gave for slipping closer to the poverty line.

2003 saw the biggest increase in people reporting their income as being at the borderline poverty level. 2003 also saw the biggest increase in families reporting their earnings at low-income levels.

Unemployment and under-employment still a major crisis

At least 2.6 million workers have lost their jobs under the Bush administration.

The Bush administration is the only one in 70 years which has had a decline in private sector jobs. http://jec.senate.gov/democrats/charts/ber_allcharts.pdf 

The total unemployment rate is at 6.3% for 2003. 9.1 million (adjusted figures) Americans are unemployed and that does not include the millions who have stopped collecting unemployment benefits or did not register as unemployed.

According to a July 2003 survey 70% of workers used up all their unemployment benefits before finding another job. If you count the workers who are not receiving any unemployment benefits, but are still without a job, the actual figure of those unemployed could be as high as 14 million.

House Republicans have refused to extend federal unemployment insurance benefits to those who exhaust their current benefits and remain unemployed. The White House has also refused to endorse significant federal aid to the states, even though tax increases and service cuts at the state level will fall most heavily on lower-income and minority populations.

If you look at the official Department of Labor Statistics figures, they claim that the unemployment figure is 8,774,000 (unadjusted figures) for 2003. Many private groups are saying these figures are way too low.

The National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty has stated that the surveys typically miss at least one million unemployed workers who decline to give any information. Some workers rights groups have said that the government surveys might not include up to three million people who donít have year round employment, or those who are self employed and may not always have steady work, but are still counted as employed.

African-Americans have a phenomenally high unemployment rate of 11.2%, almost twice that of the nation as a whole. African-American teenagers have an especially high unemployment rate of 28.2%, twice that of the total national average for teenage unemployment.

Many middle class workers have also been recently affected by the layoffs in the high tech fields and skilled labor markets. Many high tech and skilled service support jobs have been moved overseas to foreign trade zones.

The biggest increase in workers losing jobs last year was among the middle class. Many former white collar workers have been forced to take low paying jobs in the restaurant and service industries, after failing to find employment in their former job fields.

Many workers are forced to work for a temp agency or day labor while looking for full time employment.

Due to the general economic slowdown, the temporary agencies and day labors have not had as many jobs available. In a recent survey among temp agency workers, 62% reported that they have had trouble finding work everyday, or had been unable to find long term temp work.

The number of high tech and factory jobs has declined while the service industry and restaurant industry have been the only job markets that have shown any significant increase in hiring.

Millions of Americans are being forced into low paying jobs without benefits due to the loss of higher paying jobs with benefits. Many workers have no other choice but to work two or three part time jobs with no benefits when they fail to find full time employment.

67% of workers who had managed to find some form of new employment said that the job they found did not meet their adequate income requirements. They stated that their new jobs did not pay enough to meet housing demands, electric costs, food costs, and other household expenses.

85% had taken a pay cut of at least 15%, and 61% said they had taken a pay cut of over 25% when accepting new employment. 37% had taken a new job that paid less than 50% of their former salary.

86% said the their new jobs provided less benefits such as health care, sick leave, and insurance. 61% said they had had been forced to take new jobs that provided little or no benefits. 47% of all US workers do not have health care benefits or any form of health insurance coverage. (US Department of Labor Statistics and the Urban Institute)

69% of low-income workers reported being unable to pay electric bills, rent or mortgage payments, doctor and medical bills, or health insurance payments at some point in 2003. The main reasons for being unable to pay their bills were low pay, high rent or electric bills, loss of full time work, pay cuts, and temporary loss of employment.

54% of low-income workers reported that they were chronically late in the payments of household rental and mortgage expenses, and utilities. Chronically late in payments means that they have been unable to fully pay their bills for a period of three months or more. (Urban Institute)

The latest report form the US Dept. of Labor stated that 277,000 eligible workers had stopped looking for employment after more than a year of being unemployed. More than two million people have been out of work for at least six months, the highest level in twenty years. The average job search lasted 19 weeks, up from 12 weeks in 2001.

All these facts and figures show that US labor market is far from the recovery George Bush has pronounced. The economic prosperity and bright future he promises seem a long way off for the millions of workers struggling to pay the bills after job losses and economic setbacks. Millions of people most affected by the current economy would disagree with George on how good it is right now.

Homelessness and hunger increase again in 2003

Since the year 2000, the homeless population in America has increased by approximately 50%. In 2003 the homeless population increased by approximately 15% on a national average. Every year since 1999 the homeless population has increased by 10-15%. While it is hard to track the total number of homeless, each year at least 5.5 million people experience homelessness at some point.

Since 2000 every major US city has reported an increase in homelessness of between 35-50%. Most cities are not able to keep up with the increased demand for services from the increases in the homeless and hungry. Due to budget shortfalls many cities have had to cut back on necessary services such as homeless shelters and housing programs for low-income families, and emergency food centers.

The average wait to get in to public assisted housing was 22-26 months in 2003. Most low-income families have been on the waiting lists for an average of 14 months and are still waiting for adequate housing to become available. It is estimated that an additional 2.3 million people applied for public housing in 2003.

60% of all new cases of homelessness are single women with children. 15% of all new homeless cases are families with children. Homeless families comprise 40% of the total homeless population. 41% of the homeless population are single men, 14% are single women, and 5% are unaccompanied minors.

The National Council of Mayors conducts a yearly survey on homelessness and hunger in the US. In 2003 there was a 17% increase in requests for emergency food and a 13% increase in requests for shelter. 84% of reporting cities said they had been unable to meet requests for shelter from families due to lack of resources, and had to turn them away.

You can view the US Council of Mayors report and the press release at http://usmayors.org/uscm/news/press_releases/documents/hunger_121803.asp 

In 2003 the average length of time a person remained homeless increased. The length of time spent on the streets averaged five months. Lack of affordable housing, low wages and low paying jobs, loss of employment, and mental illness were the leading causes of homelessness.

The amount of people experiencing long term homelessness of more than one year also increased in the last year. 45% of the homeless people surveyed said they had been homeless for more than six months. 20% said they had been homeless for over a year. (Urban Institute)

In 2003 the number of so called "precariously housed" has also gone up. The government uses the term to define those who do not have permanent stable housing. Those who are considered precariously housed include people who are sleeping on someoneís couch or floor, or spend part of the month living in a motel room or temporary residence. Often those who work for day labors or temporary agencies fall into this category.

Many day labor and temp workers donít always get out to work, so they may only be able to afford a motel room for a few nights a week. There are millions of people on Social Security and VA pensions who can also be considered to be precariously housed.

Many receive a monthly check that is not enough to cover the whole months rent and food cost. They usually stay in a motel or rent a room for a few weeks at a time. Most will spend at least part of the month living outdoors, but they are not counted as being homeless on most surveys.

At least 5.3 million people described themselves as precariously housed when applying for food stamps and other forms of public assistance in 2003.

In 2003 hunger and borderline starvation was a rapidly growing problem. The demand for emergency food often could not be met by food banks and hunger relief agencies. Many food banks have reported a 30-60% increase in emergency food requests.

I have spoken to many agencies that said they had at least a 25% increase in emergency food requests for 2003, with the biggest demand being in the first six months of the year. Many agencies have reported donations being down 15-20%, while the increased demand for food forced them to cut back on the amount of food given out.

The government has a nice little term for those facing hunger and malnutrition. They refer to it as being Ďfood insecureí. Americaís Second Harvest says that 35 million Americans are now considered Ďfood insecureí in 2003. This is an increase of two million from 2002. More than 13 million children are now considered "food insecure".

In 2003 one in every four people eating at soup kitchens and feeding centers were children. 25% of all children experienced hunger at some point during 2003. One in every five children missed at least one meal a day for a significant portion of the year.

61% of low-income households reported that their children had gone hungry at some point in the year. They often reported having a choice between paying for utilities and rent or having money to buy food.

This is the third year in a row that the number of people facing hunger has increased according to the US Department of Agriculture. The requests for food stamps also increased in 2003 by 23% or 3.3 million new applications.

The Council of Mayors also found a nationwide increase in hunger and requests for emergency food assistance. 20 of the surveyed cities reported that the increased need for food assistance resulted from lack of good jobs in their local economy. 11 of the 25 surveyed cities cited the high cost of housing as being directly related to hunger.

The 25 surveyed cites reported an average 17% increase in requests for emergency food. 59% of those requesting emergency food were families. 39% requesting food reported that they were employed. More and more workers facing budget shortfalls are forced to look for emergency food assistance.

"This survey underscores the impact the economy has had on everyday Americans," said Conference of Mayors President and Hempstead (NY) Mayor James A. Garner.

56% of surveyed cities reported having to turn away people in need due to lack of resources. Additionally 15% of requests for food by families went unmet. 88% of cities expect that the demand for emergency food will rise in 2004. 91% expect the requests for food by families to increase. 88% expect requests for emergency shelter to increase, with 80% expecting increased requests for shelter by homeless families.

"These are not simply statistics," said Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell, who co-chairs the Conference's Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. "These are real people who are hungry and homeless in our cities."

President Bush claimed that his FY2004 budget "helps America meet its goals both at home and overseas." Yet, upon examination of the budget numbers, the goals of many Americans appear not to have been included.

At a time when unprecedented numbers of families and individuals are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, the President proposed no new resources to meet their needs. His budget maintains funding levels for most homeless assistance programs; levels so woefully inadequate that each year record numbers of people are turned away from life-sustaining services.

In releasing his FY2004 budget, President Bush claimed "human compassion cannot be summarized in dollars and cents." Neither, can the untold suffering of the millions of children whose lives will be disrupted by loss of housing and health care this year. You canít summarize the sorrow of their parents, who struggle against the odds to provide stability and hope. There is also no summarizing the frustration and pain of those who work but cannot afford housing or enough food to avoid hunger.

Winning the "War on Terror" and bringing freedom to Iraq? $187 Billion destined for Iraq, $120 Billion already spent for Iraq, over $70 billion spent or destined to be spent in Afghanistan.

Bush did not even come close to reality when he talked about Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war on terror. He barely mentioned the increased military budget and bleeding of billions into long term occupation of two countries. He did not even mention the fact that 602 soldiers have died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

502 soldiers have died in Iraq. 100 have died in Afghanistan. Over 6000 Afghani civilians and over 16,000 Iraqi civilians have died since US invasions started. The guerilla attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan show no signs of letting up in the near future. The intensity and planning of the attacks has increased in the last few months. Bigger bombs and better planned attacks have taken hundreds of lives in the last few months.

The US has already spent over $120 BILLION on the Iraq war and occupation. Congress has passed the bill to provide an additional $187 BILLION for the reconstruction and rebuilding of Iraqís infrastructure. Forget the fact that US attacks caused the majority of the damage that must be repaired. Forget the fact that US companies are making billions in profits from the reconstruction contracts.

Donít think about the fact that billions of dollars needed in the US to solve our problems are being funneled away to enrich huge corporations working overseas. Forget all about how much that money could actually benefit the American people if it were spent here to fix our problems.

Bush hopes you will forget those facts and the fact that no WMDs have been found and none ever will be found. Unless of course the US plants some right before the election. I see it coming already, just when Bush needs it the most. Of course some will accuse me of believing in conspiracies, but just watch what happens.

Bush also tried to infer that we would be out of Iraq in a short time. If you need to figure out what a short amount of time means to the Bush administration, just look at Afghanistan. Two years later and the soldiers still keep dying and getting wounded, the Taliban is back in force, and guerilla attacks are on the rise again.

Bush claimed success in Afghanistan but failed to mention the high cost of invasion and continued occupation. At least $50 billion has already been spent in Afghanistan with at least another $20 billion just in occupation costs for the next year. Bush would like everyone to believe that we will be out of Afghanistan real soon. The military has said that it will be another two years or more before Afghanistan will be considered stabilized.

Of course Bush wants you to forget about the fact that American companies have made billions building US military bases and installations. Itís no surprise that Bechtel and Halliburton, along with their combined subsidiaries have won the majority of contracts in Afghanistan. Many of the other companies that have recently received contracts in Iraq have also profited enormously in Afghanistan.

The projected military budget for 2004 is over $400 BILLION. The US military budget could actually cost over $450 billion when the hidden costs of occupying Iraq and Afghanistan are factored in. Currently the US is spending over $7 billion a month in Iraq and $2 billion a month in Afghanistan.

US Citizens continue to suffer while billions sent overseas - a few solutions and conclusions

While the Bush administration wastes resources and expends billions over seas, our own citizens continue to sink further into debt and poverty. Bush presented a very positive analysis of the situation in the US.

The actual situation you see from examining all the facts is much dimmer and darker. In no way does it resemble any facts Bush expects you to believe about the current state of the union.

If the US spent just three months occupation costs, we could wipe out hunger and homelessness completely for ten years. However, it does not seem like feeding and sheltering our own citizens has a very high priority.

If the US took just 25% of their annual military budget, it could go a long way to wiping out hunger and homelessness around the world. Just 10% of our military budget spent yearly on America's children could give every high school graduate a college education for four years.

It seems like it is not a priority to protect our children from starvation and living on the streets. Our education system is crumbling and the child welfare programs are being slashed mercilessly.

Increasingly in America, private foundations and organizations are stepping in to take up the slack that the government fails to adjust for. Most charities are reporting budget shortfalls due to the government cutting programs that provide their funding and resources.

If this crisis continues, we are in danger of actually having worse hunger and homelessness than some third world countries. The military expansion and occupation must stop so that we can salvage our future. We must do this before it is too late to stop the landslide of poor and starving.

We must put our priorities in line with the welfare of all our citizens. We cannot afford to neglect our people any longer. There must be a call of reckoning to stop this depriving of anyone their basic needs to exist.

I donít know where Bush got the idea that everything was going great here in America. He obviously gets his facts from a different source than the rest of us.

The true State of the Union shows a nation in crisis with growing poverty, hunger, homelessness, and lack of decent jobs that pay enough to support a family. Our children are the ones that seem to be paying the highest price with 60% living in poverty or low-income situations.

How much longer can we ignore these growing problems before it is too late to fix them? Can we really afford to ignore them for even another day?

Jay Shaft is editor of the Coalition For Free Thought In Media. He can be reached at: freethoughtinmedia2@yahoo.com

 

Other Articles by Jay Shaft
 

* Living on the Edge of Disaster: Being a Poor Working Mother in America

 

 

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