Invisible Americans get the silent treatment

August 30th, 2012

Published on Intrepid Report, by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, August 29, 2012.

It’s just astonishing to us how long this campaign has gone on with no discussion of what’s happening to poor people. Official Washington continues to see poverty with tunnel vision—“out of sight, out of mind” … //

… Just a few days ago, The Chronicle of Philanthropy issued a report on charitable giving. Among its findings: “Rich people who live in neighborhoods with many other wealthy people give a smaller share of their incomes to charity than rich people who live in more economically diverse communities.” Responding to that study, the social psychologist Paul Piff told National Public Radio, “The more wealth you have, the more focused on your own self and your own needs you become, and the less attuned to the needs of other people you also become.”

Those few who dedicate themselves to keeping the poor ever in sight realize how grave the situation really is. The Associated Press reports that, “The number of Americans with incomes at or below 125 percent of the poverty level is expected to reach an all-time high of 66 million this year.” A family of four earning 125 percent of the federal poverty level makes about $28,800 a year, according to government figures.

That number’s important because 125 percent is the income limit to qualify for legal aid, but although that family may qualify for help, budgets for legal services have been slashed, too, and pro bono work at the big law firms has fallen victim to downsizing. So it’s not surprising, the AP goes on to say, that there’s a crisis in America’s civil courts because people slammed by the financial meltdown—overwhelmed by foreclosure, debt collection and bankruptcy cases—can’t afford legal representation and have to represent themselves, creating gridlock in our justice system—and one more hammer blow for the poor.

We know, we know: It is written that, “The poor will always be with us.” But when it comes to our “out of sight, out of mind” population of the poor, you have to think we can help reduce their number, ease the suffering, and speak out, with whatever means at hand, on their behalf and against those who would prefer they remain invisible. Speak out: that means you and me, and yes, Mr. President, you, too. You once told the big bankers on Wall Street that you were all that stood between them and the pitchforks of an angry public. How about telling the poor you will make sure our government stands between them and the cliff?
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