The Economic Problem

Unemployment. Drug abuse. Lack of health care. Illiteracy and education decline. Street violence. Xenophobia. Prostitution. Malnourishment. The increasing income gap.

These are the industrial world’s perennial problems. The ones that have defied attempts both of both legislators and concerned citizens to squash them.  The ones that show us that America and Britain and Germany have their fair share of hardships as well.

But what if these aren’t isolated troubles, but symptoms of a single ailment? I believe that there is a thread connecting all these issues, one which is not a complete explanation but nevertheless important: the problem of poverty.

Now, I use poverty in a sense broader than the traditional — I think many “middle-class” families drawing salaries above the federal poverty guidelines should be considered poor, not necessarily even because of a quality of life deficiency, but due to a lack of economic safety. A family of four with a single wage-earner who draws $30,000 a year may have climbed into the administrative middle class, but if that lifeline is cut off even temporarily, government welfare is their only safety net. Millions of Americans above the federal guidelines or thresholds for poverty are still not economically secure. It is the extreme pervasiveness of economic insecurity — even in a country that theoretically has the resources to do away with it — that is the root of quite a few of America’s social, economic, and political problems.

The employment rate is obviously related to economic security, and while each factor affects the other, it is clear that promoting employment is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end, and that end is economic security. There are unemployed millionaires who are still economically secure.

Drug abuse has a worrying connection with poverty. Drugs (including alcohol) are often used because of depression or uneasiness about the future, easily caused by economic insecurity.

Economic security includes access to health car and other facilities that are needed for a healthy standard of living.

When children don’t know if they’ll have a place to sleep, their school performance drops dramatically.

Violence and vandalism are more symptoms of feelings of insecurity about the future, reflecting their prevalence in poorer neighborhoods.

“Immigrants will take our jobs” wouldn’t be scary if Americans knew they would be economically safe anyway.

Prostitution and sex trafficking are results of extreme poverty and unemployment forcing women and girls to sell themselves to survive.

Malnourishment is evidently related to poverty and economic insecurity and is a very important indicator of quality of life.

The fact that the rich make so much more than the poor wouldn’t matter if even the poorest were economically secure. At bottom, it’s not the unfairness but the absolute poverty of the poorest that is most important.

A livable level of economic security is a basic human right — deride welfare and entitlement programs all you want, but that doesn’t change the fact that foreigners deserve to live under a roof just like American-born citizens, the “lazy” deserve to eat every day just like the “hardworking”, and the poor deserve to sleep on a bed just as much as the rich. #

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