There certainly has been a ceasefire in the War on Poverty, hasn’t there?
As the ambiguous term “middle class” grows more and more into a popular political football, used both by candidates and presidents on both sides of the aisle to position themselves as fighting for the everyman, the poor class in this country has officially become an afterthought.
Other than Al Sharpton, the Congressional Black Caucus, Senator Bernie Sanders and a few like-minded journalists, the poverty crisis in the country is no longer a crisis — that is, if you watch cable news or read the newspaper. Amazingly, the poor class has taken a back seat to the more in vogue “middle class,” even as membership of the poorer class drastically increases in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
According to a survey done by the Conference of Mayors, the number of homeless people looking for help jumped seven percent from 2011. When you dig deeper into the survey, the numbers are alarming:
Of those seeking food assistance, only 7 percent were homeless. The biggest group were families (51 percent); employed worker (37 percent); and the elderly (17 percent). Those are scary statistics.
And as these people struggle, Republicans fight to the holy deaths to preserve every last tax cut for the rich, and President Obama dusts off the latest speech mentioning the middle class 75 times.
So if the Republicans are for the rich and the Democrats are for the middle class, who is fighting for the ever-growing poorer class? Whose tent is growing as more people fall down the ladder from middle class to poor?
This idea of the forgotten poorer class became more clear to me this summer when I watched a segment on MSNBC’s Up With Chris Hayes. Hayes interviewed Tanya Wells, a middle class mother — through no fault of their own, both she and her husband lost their jobs as a result of the Great Recession. In a blink of an eye, their combined household incomes went from $100K down to $18,000. Today, she and her family live off of student loans, food stamps and Medicaid as they plan to learn new career skills.
Listening to Wells says it all:
“I played all my cards right before the recession. We had jobs, we were making good money, we were your average middle class family living comfortably. All of a sudden the rug got pulled out from under us, and we are along with the rest of the people from the middle class and we are now poor.”
If that didn’t open your eyes, maybe this will:
“It is extremely scary … we’re talking about my family. We’re talking about my dependency on a system to keep us a float, and it is in serious serious jeopardy right now. And that is a very scary thought to live with every single day.”
Tanya’s story brought me to this stark realization — this situation could have easily been my own parent’s, if heaven forbid their joint business went out of business. And with the shaky economic times we live in, it could easily be one of your loved ones, or even you.
But in Washington, this very real crisis has instead been broken down into punchlines. Republicans detest for people like Tanya, who they view as the “takers,” and Democrats focus like a laser on the “middle class,” whose struggles are also real, but, generally speaking, not at crisis levels.
Both lawmakers and Americans turning their attention to and empathizing with those in our society befallen on hard times should not be a political issue.
It should be a human issue.
And for those in Washington who like to blame these people, and think they aren’t doing enough to pick themselves up out of poverty…
Think about how many Tanya Wells there are in America, who one day were making six figures, and for whatever reason, were on line for food stamps the next. How many Tanya Wells chose a career, worked hard for 15-20 years, and now need to start over as their chosen industry is laying off instead of hiring? How many Tanya Wells out there are pounding the pavement looking for new jobs, but not finding any?
Democratic stalwart President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said it best: “The Hopes of the Republic cannot forever tolerate either undeserved poverty or self-serving wealth.”
So the next time you watch President Obama give a speech about the middle class, or hear Republicans talk about “protecting small business owners” (code for the wealthy), call your representative, write to your local news station and ask: What about the poorer class?
Because unfortunately in the end, we are all one pink slip or disaster away from hard times. And if that happens to you, don’t you want a little care and concern out of Washington?
Jordan Chariton is a politics, media and culture writer. He has previously produced for Foxnews.com’s “Strategy Room,” Fox Business Network’s “Freedom Watch,” and MSNBC Dayside. Tweet him @JordanChariton.