Poverty America’s Shameful Blight

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The Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal� with “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness� Many Americans tout these slogans as symbols of America’s noble ideals. But for those of African descent they ring as nothing more than hollow words in the absence of true equality.

Thomas Jefferson, a slaveholder and primary architect of the Declaration, is a prime example of the hypocrisy of these words. For nearly 10 years after the drafting of the Declaration he stated in his “Notes on the State of Virginia (1785)� that “Blacks whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind� Also asserting that Blacks “secrete less by the kidneys, and more by the glands of the skin, which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odor.� It’s funny how the “disagreeable odor� never repelled him from his serial acts of pedophilia against young Sally Hemmings.

But there is another subtle perversion for which he is guilty. Jefferson while editing the Declaration decided that the words “possessing property� should be taken out and replaced by the phrase “pursuit of happiness.� This is important because how can one truly be equal without access to property? And the monopolization of land in the hands of the few has impoverished the many.

This brings us to Dr. King. Dr. King realized that economic inequality was rampant and enacted a “Poor People’s Campaign� and “Rainbow Revolution� across color lines to force the government to “address itself to the problem of poverty.� Yet, nearly 40 years since his assassination the government still ignores the inequality caused by poverty. And I believe he was silenced, largely, to crush any idea of economic parity.

Officially there are 35 to 37 million poor people living in America, 13 million of them children. However, his figure doesn’t truly reflect the problem given the meager definitional criteria of who are considered poor. For example, according to the Census Bureau’s Office of Management and Budget for a family of four to be considered poor their combined income who have to be less that 18,810 per year. There are 40 million souls in Black America. In our communities poverty is twice the national rate standing at 24.4 percent. Ten million Black people live below the poverty line. And according to the Children’s Defense Fund 1 million Black children are mired in “extreme poverty.�

America is the richest country in the world. That those riches were gained off of the backs of Blacks is evident. But economic exploitation in America was meant not only to subjugate Blacks but also most whites. In a revealing study done by Gregory Mantsios, Director, Queens College Worker and Labor Resource Center he found that the richest 10 percent in America control 71.7 percent of the nation’s richest, with the top 0.5 percent accounting for 35.1 percent of that figure. But, 90 percent of the nation must survive on 28.2 percent! And Mantsios warns that “the distribution of wealth in the U.S. is grossly unequal and becomes increasingly more so with time.�

That statement is profoundly significant given the fiscal impropriety of the current administration. For Team Bush has steadfastly maintained their unconscionable tax breaks for the rich. “Between 2002 and 2004, a full $197 billion in new tax breaks went to the top 1 percent of American taxpayers� says UFE (United for Fair Economy) Research Director Chris Hartman. Is this the way Bush proposes to create an “ownership society?�

Then there is the four-billion-a-month Iraqi fiasco. America’s taxpayers are paying in excess of 60 billion-a-year in the war theaters of death. And keep in mind these figures don’t include the costs of rebuilding Iraq’s electric, water and other infrastructures facilities.

In the current atmosphere of fear much lip-service is given to the need for security. This question is most often framed in a foreign context. However, why do politicians refuse to address the domestic insecurity created by poverty?

There are other aspects of poverty often overlooked like homelessness and joblessness. As of Dec 31st some 2.7 million people were listed on jobless rolls. But this number doesn’t include those who have either stopped looking or don’t report to the Labor Dept. In NYC 1 out of every 2 Black males is unemployed. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimated that around 3 million people were homeless at some point during 2002.

MLK told us that “the curse of poverty has no justification in our age� and warned “that a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.� And to advance his dream we must ardently fight economic oppression.

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