Re­duc­ing poverty in the US should be an ur­gent task

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

The United States is the rich­est and most pow­er­ful coun­try in the world. It could af­ford to spend more than one tril­lion dol­lars in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and make B-2 stealth bombers that cost $2 bil­lion a piece. Yet daily life in its cities of­ten de­fies such an im­age.

On my way to and from work via the Wash­ing­ton Metro, it’s al­most al­ways the beg­gars who greet pas­sen­gers com­ing in and out of the sta­tions. Men and women, old and young, hold signs of “hun­gry”, “out of job”, “home­less” or “home­less vet­er­ans”.

And out­side the Martin Luther King Jr Me­mo­rial Li­brary just two blocks from my Metro Center stop, there are lines of home­less peo­ple wait­ing for free meals dis­trib­uted by char­ity or­ga­ni­za­tions or shel­ter buses to pick them up and take them to a place to stay.

But some of the home­less choose to sleep on benches in parks, some in card­board boxes in small al­leys. In the sub-zero days like two weeks ago, some home­less slept on the side­walks over the sub­way grates so the ris­ing heat would keep them warm.

Such a pic­ture is true not just in New York and DC, but other ma­jor US cities, such as San Fran­cisco and Seat­tle. They are all great cities and my fa­vorite cities in the US, but they would be so much nicer with­out such a scene, an in­hu­man one es­pe­cially for a coun­try as rich as the US.

In his cov­er­age of Cam­den, New Jersey, last year, NBC TV’s news an­chor Brian Wil­liams de­scribed the poor­est US city as “stag­ger­ing poverty sur­rounded by stag­ger­ing wealth.” Run-down houses in Cam­den con­trast sharply to the glitzy skyscrap­ers of Philadel­phia on the other side of the Delaware River.

Sta­tis­tics showed that 15 per­cent of Amer­i­cans, or close to 50 mil­lion, were liv­ing in poverty in 2012, ac­cord­ing to the US Cen­sus.

Th­ese in­cluded a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of African Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos. A Pew Center re­port shows that poverty among African Amer­i­cans, though fall­ing slightly over the years, is still more than dou­ble the rate for whites, 27.2 per­cent against 12.7 per­cent. Mean­while, the share of His­pan­ics in poverty has risen over the years to 25.6 per­cent in 2012.

There is no doubt that the poverty in the US is quite dif­fer­ent from that in the de­vel­op­ing world. Many of the poor in the US may have com­put­ers, dish­wash­ers and cars. But the ex­is­tence of such a large un­der­priv­i­leged group shows that some­thing has gone se­ri­ously wrong in this so­ci­ety.

Amer­i­cans have been de­bat­ing is­sues such as poverty and min­i­mum wage in the past weeks as they mark the 50th an­niver­sary of Pres­i­dent Lyn­don John­son’s War on Poverty. Some have ap­plauded the great achieve­ments since the early 1960s, but oth­ers mocked it by quot­ing Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan as say­ing that “the United States fought a war on poverty and poverty won.”

Both may be right to some ex­tent, but the poverty seen on Amer­ica’s streets on a daily ba­sis, and much more be­hind the streets, means the coun­try is far from ac­com­plish­ing its war on poverty.

No won­der In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Chris­tine La­garde would point fin­ger at the US on Wed­nes­day when she warned that in far too many coun­tries, ben­e­fits of growth are be­ing en­joyed by far too few peo­ple.

She de­scribed the fact that 95 per­cent of in­come gains since 2009 went to the top 1 per­cent in the US as “not a recipe for sta­bil­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity.”

It’s clear that poverty re­duc­tion is not just an ur­gent task for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries like China, which, de­spite lift­ing 600 mil­lion out of poverty in the past few decades, still faces enor­mous hard work ahead. It’s also a press­ing one for the rich­est su­per­power. The au­thor, based in Wash­ing­ton DC, is deputy ed­i­tor of China Daily USA.

chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

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