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The New America

By Jack Hoffman

As unemployment grows, the poverty statistics grow with it. And the anger becomes greater. One wonders: When will the people take to the streets again?

Recently, on his radio talk show, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned “that if the national jobs crisis doesn’t end soon, the United States will soon see riots in the streets.”

Call it what you want, but the warnings of riots and revolution have been echoed all over the country in magazines, newspapers and talk on the radio and TV shows. Professor Thomas Kochan at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, certainly no bastion of liberalism, not only agrees with Mayor Bloomberg, but also was surprised there aren’t more visible signs of public anger/protests.

The real unemployment figure for the US has now reached a staggering 20%. And just how much is the real under-employment, meaning the figures on those who are now working a bare minimum of what they used to work and earn not so long ago. The figures I have used – and will use – are based on the US Dept. of Labor statistics. Recently, the job crisis has been inflamed with the new reports of poverty in America. That last statement is an obvious fact. If people are out of a job and working at a bare minimal wage – in many homes hamburger is now stretched thin with the addition of a crappy helper and in some cases dog food – they are POOR.

We here in the Bay State are fortunate compared to states like California, Nevada and parts of the Midwest that have double-digit unemployment. Places like Detroit and Milwaukee are almost wastelands compared to what they were 20 years ago. Here in Massachusetts we are more fortunate. Our unemployment figure for the past month has dipped from 7 ¾% to 7 ½%. In a recent Globe article is a listing of 15 town and cities where housing values have actually begun to rise.

I’m sure you all have heard the stories from neighbors, friends and within your own family. Take Bill Rickers of Hartford, Maine: In 1980 he fell through some boards while doing some carpentry work. He has since been unable to do any carpentry work. He has two college degrees. As a young man, Rickers worked as an electronics repairman, a pastor and a TV cameraman. He and his first wife had seven children. Now he receives food stamps, gets donations from a local food pantry store, and drives an 18-year-old car with 189,000 miles on it. About once every two months, as a treat, he goes out to lunch at a nearby lunch café.

After his accident Rickers was not able to tend to a three-unit apartment house he and his wife owned. They sold it, and bought a used trailer from the proceeds. If you think this is bad, he has serious back and shoulder injuries, his hands shake, he has congestive heart problems, asthma and arthritis. The stories go on and on.

That’s why I wasn’t so shocked when at a recent Republican debate Ron Paul was asked what do we do with folks like Ricker, who have no insurance — or any extra money Ricker has which is very little he uses for food. Mr. Paul’s answer was (in so many words): If he can’t get into a hospital he will just have to die.

At that moment there was a few dumb asses out there who actually applauded. I imagine some of the Tea Party/Fox TV crowd. I wasn’t surprised. Most likely the yelp and cheers came from the ones who love to raise the American flag on every holiday and consider themselves proud patriots.

Let the new figures speak for themselves:

Three out of four below the poverty line work; half have full-time jobs. One quarter work part-time. Only one quarter don’t work at all. So don’t give me that BS line “They should get a job.” 25% of all children, that’s 16.7 million, are living below the poverty line. 52% of all Americans, by the time they reach 65, will live in poverty. In one year, poverty has gone to 15% from 14.3%

Today there are 42 million Americans living in poverty. It has been more than 50 years since Edward R. Murrow telecast one of the most shocking and profound TV documentaries, A Harvest of Shame (poverty in America). That was a long time ago, and since then things have gotten worse.