Increasingly, it is popular to portray the impoverished as reliant on government support, lazy, and even immoral. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In our wealthy nation it seems like poverty is everywhere – just walk down the block, talk to your foreclosed neighbor, or open the newspaper. An increasing number of Americans are unable to maintain a lifestyle of dignity. With the recent economic downturn and worrisome trends concerning poverty and educational achievement, the American dream seems so passé. The economic downturn has proved to many Americans that this ideal is far from reality.
As a society we are increasingly blind to the needy among us. While Wall Street CEO’s earn hundred million dollar bonuses, the reality is that many Americans struggle to simply make ends meet. Many still cling to the belief that small, limited government will solve all our problems. While we should surely reduce wasteful spending, this does not mean reducing our safety net. History has proved that social welfare is necessary if we hope to ensure a quality lifestyle and minimum standard of living.
The reality is that while Republicans advocate for small government, they continue to support outrageous military spending (kudos to Ron Paul, the sole Republican that wants to reduce our expenditure). US military spending has far-exceeded any other country, and it continues to threaten our livelihood. Recently, The Economist revealed that the United States spends more on its military than the next 17 countries combined! Were the US to withdraw 50,000 troops from Germany, a relic of post-WWII policy, we could invest billions in our public education system.
Washington politicians have continued to squander opportunities to address child poverty, our inadequate education system, and hunger in America. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” problem believed that by standardizing assessment and requiring schools to perform, they could improve test results. This approach, also taken by President Obama, does not take into account the underlying issues. Many politicians in fact take a bold stance against liberal entitlement programs. American from all sides of the political spectrum realize that Washington is broken and that our distant politicians are not there to fix it. The famous slogan of the Occupy movement – We are the 99% – actually points to the problem. An astonishing 47% of Congressmen are millionaires, in contrast to just 1% of all Americans. Congress can cater to the interests of the 1% because it is the 1%.
As a business-school student, I recognize the strength of our private sector and the need to support entrepeneurship and innovation in our economy. However, I also realize that our income gap has left many Americans struggling to meet their basic needs. I believe that a modern society should ensure its citizens maintain a minimum standard of living.
The growth of the Occupy Wall Street Movement is the result of underlying doubts about opportunities for Middle and Lower class Americans. We rightfully question a growing income gap and question whether such a gap undermines the American Dream. The US is increasingly a divided nation. In fact, the share of pre-tax income that goes to the wealthiest Americans has been on a continuing upward trajectory. We think of the Rockefeller days as a period of great economic inequality and lavish lifestyles for the wealthiest Americans. Yet in 2006, the top 1% of Americans earned 18.8% of all income, more than in 1916.
While in the past we were expected to show sympathy for the poor and desperate, this is no longer the case.
Gingrich makes it a point to refer to Obama as the ““the best food-stamp president in American history.” He seems to feel no sympathy for inner-city youth. Just a few months ago Gingrich suggested that poor children in inner-city neighborhoods “have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash,’ unless it’s illegal.” It is hard to imagine such a racially-charged statement repeated in the 2008 election.
Yet the most telling statement comes from the Republican candidate and establishment favorite Mitt Romney (who pays less taxes than many secretaries). During a CNN interview, Romney went as far as to say “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there.” Romney entered new territory with his rogue statement. Although he later back-tracked on the statement, the first part of this statement alone is astonishing. At a time when 1 in 5 US children live in poverty, to make such a declaration is completely out of touch with reality! Romney’s second claim is even more disheartening. Our safety net surely does not justify inaction. By failing to address fundamental problems with our education system (as well as the epidemic of mass incarceration), Romney ensures that entitlement programs will continue to grow. Without economic opportunities, food stamps will become reality for an increasing number of Americans.
Could America cease to be a land of opportunity for all? Without fundamental changes to our government policy, we are surely headed in that direction. In a global era, education is everything.