I stopped by the McDonald’s on Fowler and Nebraska avenues Monday afternoon to purchase a “chicken” sandwich to hold me over until I could get home to New Port Richey that evening. As I was walking out of the fine rapid food establishment, a desolate woman stumbled up to me.
“Could you give me some change? I haven’t eaten in two days,” she said.
Some people might have ignored her; others might have politely said no and then chided her later for being lazy or unmotivated.
But I have learned not to make such cynical assumptions, so I did what I could. I gave her the food and the five bucks I had in my wallet. She staggered inside, I got in my car, and we parted ways.
The amount I gave her was a trifle sum considering all the clothes that I own, the car I drive and the education I don’t pay for.
This woman is simply an example of a growing group in our country. This Friday we learned that the poverty level had risen to its highest in a decade. Nearly two million more Americans, 34.6 million in all, are living below the poverty line.
The increase put poverty at its highest level since 1991. The number of children living in poverty rose to 16.7 percent from 16.3 percent in 2001. The number of families in poverty rose to 9.6 percent from 9.2 percent. The worst affected section of the population is African-Americans, who saw a 1.4 percent increase from the 2001 numbers to 24.1 percent.
To compound economic woes, a further 2.4 million Americans, 43.6 million in all, have no health care coverage whatsoever.
The announcement of these numbers, produced from the 2002 Income and Poverty Estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, comes a week before the Labor Department is expected to announce a new round of job losses for September.
Poverty has long been a partisan issue. Both parties admonish the other’s solutions. Democrats loathe the Bush tax cuts, an economic stimulus package that has stimulated nothing. Meanwhile, Republicans sneer that the Democrats, wanting to increase spending on social programs and recall high income tax cuts, can’t solve anything by throwing money at the problem.
Frankly, who cares who is right and who is wrong? The simple fact is people like the woman outside of McDonald’s are the ones hurt by this bickering, not politicians sporting expensive suits and French (or is it Freedom?) cuffs.
Congress must take immediate measures to assist the newly unemployed and uninsured. The White House must provide the nation with a real economic stimulus package, not one that might or might not spur the economy sometime in the future.
A suggestion is to use the $87 billion President George W. Bush wants to use to rebuild Iraq to help the American destitute. Give the Iraqis that same amount, but call it a loan. I don’t think that’s too much to ask of a country sitting on the second largest oil reserves in the world.
Can politicians in good conscience give so much money away when so many here could use it?
I certainly couldn’t tell the woman at McDonald’s, “Hey, sorry about this, but we can’t help you because we have to build a prison in Iraq.”
Joe Roma is a senior in political science. firstname.lastname@example.org