The numbers are in. In the wake of the worst recession since the Great Depression of the early 20th Century, we now have more poor people than we’ve had since we started keeping track of poor folk—46.2 million. That’s over 15% of Americans now defined as poor, up from about 14% the previous year. In case you need to understand how our country defines poverty, if your family of four makes less than $22,314 a year, you are poor.
I’ve been there. I remember what it was like when I was working for Ritz Camera making $6.50 an hour and, after paying mortgage and utilities, having little left over for food, much less entertainment of any kind. We would have to buy meat at heavy discounts, once it was dangerously close to its sell-by date. I got paid bi-weekly; we were lucky if we had something left over by the following Wednesday, two days before I would receive my next check. God forbid there was some emergency requiring money, or if we ran out of diapers. If it wasn’t for WIC (Women, Infants & Children) providing vouchers for formula and other necessities, I don’t know how we would have made it. Technically, considering how our family was eventually torn apart in the end, we didn’t. Being poor is no way to live.
And yet, if I understand my free marketeering, TEA party friends correctly, that’s perfectly acceptable. Worse, my family was sponging by accepting WIC benefits. According to the rules of Survival of the Fittest (ironic, considering many don’t ascribe to the Theory of Evolution which gave us that rule), I wasn’t fit enough to support my little family. Rightly, in a fundamentally free market, if my wife and I could not afford to feed our family, than my two little boys should have been allowed to suffer and die.
Of course, as much of the American public is learning, sympathy is not a TEA Party strong suit. When Ron Paul, the racist scion of Libertarians everywhere, was asked in a recent debate about what should happen if a young, healthy man that opts to NOT get insurance ends up becoming the victim of some terrible tragedy and finds himself in a coma, what should be done, the answer shouted out from members of the audience was to LET HIM DIE. Ron Paul agreed. If this hypothetical man was too stupid, or too poor, to purchase some kind of health insurance, and no one—friends, family, church, community organization—is willing to step up to the plate, well that’s just a cold, hard fact of a truly free market.
Thank Goodness those free marketeers haven’t won, yet.
And yet is the operative term. You may have noted my long absence from this column. Part of it had to do with too many responsibilities—a full-time job, Vice President of the Maryland Writers Association, etc.—but a lot of it was just a general disappointment in my fellow citizens. I saw the writing on the wall, last fall. As the midterm elections approached, it became obvious that the heartless, free-marketeering TEA Partiers were going to shift the direction of politics in this country. What pissed me off wasn’t so much that they were taking over. What really pissed me off is that we let them.
So many of the people that were enthralled by Obama into participating in the political process in 2008 stayed home in 2010. That had more to do with so many TEA Partiers getting elected into office than any reflection of what most Americans want. Most Americans don’t want Social Security or Medicaid dismantled, but those who actually got off their lazy asses and voted last year don’t give a fuck. To them, those are just examples of programs the Federal government should not be involved in.
Another of those pesky Federal programs is the entire Department of Education. Schooling should be left to the states. If a state can’t afford to school all its children, then parents can turn to privates sources and home schooling. Anyone has a right to home school their child (Albeit, if they’re teaching their children that Creationism is science, they’re doing a horrible job), so that’s not an issue. The issue is those private sources. Who will end up teaching the majority of school children who can’t afford a decent private school? Religious schools—most likely, Christian schools.
Now, I have no problem if someone wants to send their child to a school that adds a religious component to their education. But I enjoy the freedom of separating my children’s education from their religious indoctrination. That’s a freedom all of us should enjoy. I don’t need a school that confuses my children with anti-science bullshit while feeding them nonsense about Evolution and Climate Change being unproven theories when scientific consensus put those theories at 99.999% and 95% acceptance, respectively.
So no, the typical TEA Partier doesn’t give a flying fuck how many people drop from their precarious perches in the working and middle classes, as long as they’re not the ones dropping. Let the chips fall where they may because the free market will sort it all out, eventually. Any death, in the name of a truly free market is a good death—an honorable death.
Do you know who cares even less than TEA Partiers? Capitalist Oligarchs. Who are they, you ask? Let’s just say that there are two basic types of rich people in this country: those who become rich as a result of good ideas and business decisions, for whom wealth is just a happy coincidence, and those for whom wealth is religious—for them, wealth is power with which to buy politicians and their votes and to lord over those without it. It is no coincidence that these perpetual increases in poverty continue despite the recession having been over for nearly two years. Jobs keep getting sent abroad, where labor is cheaper. American workers have been doing more work without any increases in pay. Why?
Because these Capitalist Oligarchs know that by keeping the economy stalled, they can get rid of a president who would push for regulations that would prevent them from driving our economy off a cliff. Again. Is it any surprise that these TEA party groups, and others like them are supported by oligarchs like the Koch Brothers—who backed the anti-union bullshit in Wisconsin, and Rupert Murdoch & Roger Ailes—who run Fox News. It works in their favor. The more unemployed there are, the less money they have to offer for the shittiest jobs. Can you imagine what salaries would be like if we didn’t have a federal minimum wage?
Don’t expect these numbers to turn around anytime soon. Those poverty figures are for 2010. Considering that there have been no considerable improvements this year, the numbers will only get worse. And if the TEA Party keeps doing the bidding, against their own financial interests, of the Kochs, the Murdochs & the Aileses of the world, things will get much worse than anyone can imagine.
And what about those of us on the bottom? Well, we can believe, like they do, that we get what we deserve. In that case, we can just continue suffering and dying. But if, like me, you think you deserve better because you work as hard, if not harder, than that fool who thinks your being underpaid and under-appreciated is the reason he’s got problems, well… We’ve all seen what happened in the Middle East, Greece, even in England, as a result of taking the growing underclass for granted. Just because they don’t care does not mean they shouldn’t be scared.
Fernando Quijano III is the former President of the Maryland Writers Association, Baltimore Chapter. His work has been featured in Welter, Smile Hon, You’re in Baltimore & the poetry anthology, Life in Me Like Grass on Fire. An excerpt from his unpublished novel, Forever, Lilith was included in the Apprentice House anthology Freshly Squeezed. He has been featured at the Baltimore Book Festival, Stoop Storytelling, & The Signal on WYPR, Baltimore's local NPR station. In his spare time, Fernando volunteers to lead workshops for Writing Outside the Fence, a program for the ex-offender community, as well as at the Brock Bridge Correctional Facility. Fernando was recently awarded a B grant for his writing by the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund.