Saturday, February 10, 2007

Barely Making It in the Suburbs

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The current issue of Newsweek has an article about poverty coming to the suburbs:

Six years ago, Brian Lavelle moved out of the city of Cleveland to the nearby suburb of Lakewood for what he thought would be a better life. Back then, Lavelle, 38, was a forklift operator in a steel mill making $14 an hour. He had a house, a car and was saving for his retirement. Then, three years ago, the steel mill closed and Lavelle found that the life he dreamed of was just that, a dream. The suburbs, he quickly learned, are a tough place to live if you're poor. For starters, there isn't much of a safety net in his community. Food pantries, job-retraining centers and low-cost health clinics are hard to come by. He can't afford either gas or car insurance, and inadequate public transportation hurts him, too. Not long ago, he was offered a job in another suburb, "but it just wasn't doable." The commute by public bus would have taken him three hours each way.
The suburban poor defy stereotypes about how and why people slip into poverty. Howard and Jane Pettry, of Middleburg Heights, Ohio, see themselves as working-class—just facing hard times. In December, Jane was laid off from her job at a local supermarket, and a week later Howard had a heart attack and missed a month of work from his job at a grain mill. Now Jane's collecting unemployment and they're staring at the poverty line as they struggle to pay the mortgage and the bills. "I've worked all my life and paid my taxes," says Jane. "Now we're living off credit cards. It's terrible."

And the $2.10 hike in the minimum wage? It doesn't address the larger problem:

... [A]nalysts at the Economic Policy Institute, a D.C.-based think tank, say that while some 4.5 million suburbanites will benefit from a minimum-wage hike, it's not enough. "It's not a living wage, it's a minimum wage," says EPI senior economist Jared Bernstein, who says there's still a yawning gap between what people earn and what it costs to live that must be addressed.

Articles like this one remind me of why the neoconservative response to poverty is so inadequate: It's not based on a realistic understanding of what poverty IS in our society. It's not just black teenage moms on welfare. It's not just dead-enders who refuse to work for a living.

Right-wingers are fond of saying that 'even the poorest among us' can become middle-class, or can live decent lives, if they're "willing to work hard." They cling like children to shallow, one-size-fits-all mantras like "you can do anything you want in life: you just have to want to work hard for it (gasp!). Hollywood movies, usually dismissed contemptuously as being 'out of touch' with the lives of 'real' Americans -- are suddenly taken with the utmost seriousness when they play into the "pick-yourself-up-off-the-floor-and-dust-yourself-and-try-again" sloganeering that passes for thinking on the right.

Well, the Americans profiled in this article -- and millions more very much like them -- are willing to work hard, and they do work hard. But they are still barely getting by and on the edge of economic disaster every day -- and it is not their fault. They are getting screwed by economic forces that our government is not interested in addressing -- for very obvious reasons.

1 comment:

Chief said...

What a lot of people, maybe a lot of those on the right is that most folks that fall into hard times got there thru no fault of their own. Down sizing, moving jobs overseas or to Mexico screws a lot of normal and hard working families.