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American Poverty Is Awesome

The right wing keeps saying that. Fox routinely points out that poor people in America have refrigerators, so they’re clearly not suffering enough to actually feel any kind of sympathy for. In a post earlier this month, I talked about lead paint in poor neighborhoods, and the neurological damage it does. I framed that piece around Baltimore, but it’s true of any poor neighborhood in the US.

Being poor in America really isn’t the leisurely life of strip clubs and lobster dinners republicans would have you believe it is. Our poor people aren’t actually the lucky ones compared to poor people around the world. Let’s take a look at some statistics for Baltimore, which has a diverse array of income levels and neighborhoods.

Roland Park is a wealthy Baltimore neighborhood. The life expectancy of  residents of Roland Park is eighty-four years old. That would be five years above the national life expectancy of seventy-nine years. Three miles away from Roland Park is one of Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods, downtown/ Seton Hall. The life expectancy of a resident there is sixty-four. That’s twenty years (or 31%) less life, just for being born poor. These gaps in life expectancy are not unique to Baltimore. They exist all over the US although twenty years is one of the biggest gaps. Here’s a little perspective on life expectancies around the world. Countries with a lower than sixty-four year life expectancy are largely in Africa, and all third world. Afghanistan has a life expectancy of sixty-one years. Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Namibia all have life expectancies of sixty-four years. Turkmenistan has a life expectancy of sixty-five, and India comes in at sixty-six. If you’re born in Pakistan, you can expect to live three years longer than someone born in a poor neighborhood in Baltimore. Iraqis can expect to live five years longer than poor people in Baltimore. If you’re born in Mexico, you can expect to live thirteen years longer than a poor person in Baltimore. I can go on, but you get the point.

Let me stop you before you get to thinking that higher crime and homicide rates are the primary drivers of the life expectancy gap. 70.1% of deaths in downtown/ Seton Hall are “avertable deaths”, meaning that if access to health care were the same as in the wealthy neighborhoods, they wouldn’t be happening. Here are the biggest causes of death in downtown/ Seton Hall:

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We have approximately 15% of our population living at or under the poverty line. That 15% number represents 46.5 million Americans. The way the poverty line is defined in the US is basically at $16 per day, per person. Of that 46.5, 20.4 million live at less than half of poverty (so less than $8 per day per person).  Mind you, that’s supposed to cover rent, utilities, food, and everything else you need.

You know how $2 a day is the global poverty number that’s usually used? Well, Brookings tried to figure out what the percentage of Americans living on $2 a day is. It turns out that this isn’t so easy to do. The income of extremely poor people in the US doesn’t remain fixed for long periods of time. In other words, they can average $2 a day for a month or two, but any tiny amount of income puts them at an average of $3, $4, or $6 a day. You should read the study for a more detailed explanation, but Brookings came up with a range of 0% – 5% of households in America who live in $2 a day. 0% doesn’t appear to me to make much sense, since the method used to get there is by using consumption surveys as opposed to income surveys, the way the World Bank counts poverty all around the world. The problem is that when graphing both consumption and income surveys, the correlation between the two diverges significantly in the US compared to third world countries. In other words, at an income of $2 a day, the consumption survey doesn’t diverge proportionally to the income survey compared to someone with an income of $20 a day. It’s complicated, but it basically doesn’t seem like a reliable measure. So 0% doesn’t seem accurate, but neither does 5%.

But that’s okay because the actual percentage isn’t as important as the trend. Let’s say for arguments sake that 2% of American households are living on $2 per day, per person. Since 1996, that $2 a day global poverty rate has been reduced by 1/3. In the US, it’s going in the opposite direction. The factor that keeps Americans above that $2 a day line are SNAP, welfare (which can only be collected for a total of five years over the course of a lifetime), social security, and medicare. First world programs. That’s the only thing keeping our “$2 a day” population under 5%.

Why is the extreme poverty class in the US growing, while it’s shrinking in the rest of the world? Republicans. They keep cutting life saving social programs in an effort to end all that high living that we all know is happening in slums all across the country. All of that welfare, food stamp, medicare, and medicaid fraud they can’t find must be stopped! By the way, any retail business would be fucking overjoyed with a loss rate of under 10%. Relative to the private sector, these loss (fraud is less than 4% in each program) numbers are a freaking miracle. But nonetheless, they need to stop the poor people from bleeding us all dry with their eating and such. Plus, if the don’t have food, they can sell those awesome refrigerators and air conditioners that came with their mold and lead riddled apartments, thereby enabling us to cut welfare even more because they would be living large on that pawned refrigerator money. It all makes perfect sense if you think about it.

Republicans are literally turning this country into the slums of Ibadan, where you can expect to live longer than you can if you grow up in Baltimore. That’s actually not true, and I must apologize for the hyperbole. Adolescents in Ibadan are actually more hopeful and healthy than adolescents in Baltimore so I apologize for the unfair comparison.

Poverty in the US is getting worse, and contrary to what the right wing is telling you, being poor in America isn’t awesome sauce. In fact, it won’t be long before people living in the slums of New Delhi aren’t professing their gratitude that they don’t live in the US.

The richest country in the world should not contain poor neighborhoods that are comparable to third world slums. That just shouldn’t fucking happen.

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