NEW YORK - If we have learned anything from this last presidential election it’s that poverty continues to be an ignored concept by President-elect Donald Trump and by other U.S. politicians. Although both avoid using the word like a naked man avoids a poisonous snake, poverty is integral to the current reality of the U.S. socio-political landscape. The selection by Trump of the richest Cabinet in the country’s history doesn’t bide well for the poor in America.
Poverty is a state of deprivation in which people lack the usual or acceptable amount of money or material possessions to live with dignity. In 2015, using this concept, 43.1 million Americans (13.5 percent of the population) lived in poverty. Although children are 23.1 percent of the total population, they constitute 33.3 percent of the poor population. A 2013 UNICEF report stated that the United States had the second highest relative child poverty rate in the developed world.
Poverty and food security are closely related. In a food-secure household its members have access at all times to enough food for an active and healthy life. In 2013, when child poverty levels were record high, 16.7 million children were living in food insecure households, unable to access the nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.
A 2016 study by the Urban Institute, a Washington research organization that analyzes how people and communities are affected by policy reforms, states that teenagers in low income communities are frequently forced to join gangs, sell drugs or exchange sexual favors because they cannot afford to buy food.
Homelessness aggravates the problems associated with lack of food. According to a 2014 report by the National Center on Family Homelessness, the number of homeless kids in the U.S. has reached record levels, with 2.5 million — one child in every 30 — experiencing homelessness in 2013. Lack of affordable housing and domestic violence are among its main causes.
According to recent census estimates, half the U.S. population qualifies as poor or low income, while one in five Millennials are living in poverty. According to The Routledge Handbook of Poverty in the United States, new and extreme forms of poverty have appeared in the U.S. as a result of neoliberal structural adjustment and globalization policies.
In June 2016, the International Monetary Fund warned the U.S. that it needs to address its high poverty rates by raising the minimum wage and offering paid maternity leave to women to encourage them to enter the labor force. In addition, females in poverty are likely to become pregnant at younger ages and with fewer resources to care for a child, they frequently drop out of school.
Poverty hinders children’s access to quality education. Because the U.S. education system is funded by local communities, the quality of education is frequently a reflection of the affluence of the community. An inadequate education tends to perpetuate inequality and hinders children’s mental and physical development and their future job opportunities.
Poverty is not only an ignored word by Trump and by U.S. politicians, but a widespread and nefarious phenomenon in the country. Unless poverty is acknowledged and creatively and effectively addressed, we cannot speak of a just society, with equal possibilities for all.
Now is the time to remember U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
Dr. Cesar Chelala is a New York writer and an international public health consultant.