The latest depressing report came from the Pew Research Center, titled, “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class.” To no one’s surprise I am sure, it pointed out the dire straits of the so-called middle-class, citing that median household income had dropped 5 percent, but even more important was the fact that median household wealth had gone from $129,582 to $93,150, a startling 28 percent decline. Where do you fit in this statistical dilemma?
All of this talk about the “middle-class” leaves me wondering what politicians and statisticians think about the poor or lower tier people in this country. All of the conversation and concentration are on the middle-class. Of course, the upper class is well taken care of and, according to folks like Paul Ryan, it’s only significant when poor people get freebies from the government, not Wall Street bankers and major corporations.
Mitt Romney’s assertion about the poor having a safety net, therefore, he was “not worried” about them, paints a very graphic picture of the antithesis of what this country should be about. Who was it that said we should be judged on how we as a nation treat the least among us? I wonder if the folks in charge think that by ignoring the poor they will just go away.
We will hear much about the middle class and how both parties plan to help that group of people, but I’d like to know what their plans are for the poor, some of whom were pushed out of the middle class because of loss of jobs, housing foreclosures, or a reduction in the value of their homes. A story in USA Today in September of 2011, headline, “Typical U.S. family got poorer during the past 10 years,” stated: “The share of people living in poverty hit 15.1 percent, the highest level since 1993, and 2.6 million more people moved into poverty, the most since Census began keeping track in 1959.” The article went on to say, “Median income for black households fell 3.2 percent to $32,068.”
The term “Unhappy Median” points to the seriousness of the problems facing this country, especially among Black and poor people. And right now no one is addressing this ever-expanding group of citizens. President Obama “can’t” say anything in support of Black people, and Mitt Romney doesn’t “care about the poor.” Where does that leave us? Well, as usual, it leaves many of us on the sidelines, watching the game and even cheering for one side or the other, in spite of our unhappy state of affairs. As for that “safety net,” chew on this statement by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “While the increase in poverty primarily reflects developments in the economy, weaknesses in the safety net particularly in the temporary federal unemployment benefits program also contributed to it.”
A great deal of the crime in this country emanates from an economic position. I suppose only when we have seen enough killing among young folks, who are willing to get money or things they value by any means necessary, will we see a significant change in how we address the issue of poverty. Statistics and rhetoric obviously will not solve the problem. To show how silly we are when it comes to our own economic security, we vehemently complained about the Shackle Gym Shoe, so much so that it was taken off the market. But that $315 pair of LeBron James gym shoes will surely be the rage of the marketplace, mainly the Black marketplace.
Determining median household income and net worth are great exercises for the statisticians, economists, and politicians; but to those at the bottom of the economic spectrum things are in a most unhappy state. Regardless of what happens in November, we will wake up the next morning and find ourselves in the relative same situation, and it will persist until we decide we have had enough. Then and only then will Black economic empowerment move to the forefront of our psyche and take the precedence it deserves and should have had for decades.
(Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.)
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