Joyce L. Arnold, Liberally Independent, Queer Talk, equality activist, writer.

Seriously addressing the increasing levels of poverty will not be done by Obama or Romney. It is being addressed by hunger, homeless and health care advocates, Occupiers, 99%-ers, and others, but we won’t hear much if anything about that from Campaigns or media. Like poverty, such efforts don’t fit into the sexy news category.

Campaigners and Electeds seriously addressing poverty would mean acknowledging that the roots of the problems are systemic, and that’s a bipartisan no-no. Besides, based on minimal expressions of public concern, poor people just aren’t that interesting. It’s very likely, though, that some of those not talking about it as an “issue” are too busy trying to stay out of it or figure out how to survive another day in it.

Once upon a time things were different. There was a “war on poverty,” the general idea of which began with Kennedy, but was strongly embraced and carried out by Johnson. It didn’t last very long, but resulted in an amazing number of helpful and enduring programs. A summary at Virginia.edu includes (emphasis mine):

Between … Johnson’s State of the Union address in 1964 and the liberal setbacks suffered in the congressional elections of 1966, the Johnson administration pushed through an unprecedented amount of antipoverty legislation. …

Although … Nixon expressed dislike for much of the War on Poverty, his administration responded to public pressure by maintaining most programs and by expanding the welfare state … .

Republican Nixon felt compelled to respond to public pressure. The Electorate made it clear, at least for a while, that We the People wanted a “war on poverty.” Over the next decades, however, the focus of that “war” consistently shifted to blaming the people living in poverty rather than on the systemic causes.

Last week we learned of one of the latest indicators of the war on those living in or very near to poverty when the Bid to Restore Food Stamp Cuts Fail(ed) in (the) Senate:

Hundreds of thousands of food stamp recipients will lose at least $90 a month in benefits, after an amendment to the farm bill failed badly in the Senate. …

I’ve heard a few “nobody would miss just $90 a month” declarations. Such uninformed thinking surely contributes to the move from a “war on poverty” to a war on the poor.

Go here to see a map which shows, county by county, changes in poverty.

And for some 2012 context, read 22% of American Children Are Living in Poverty, But Obama and Romney Do Not Care:

Recent reports have shown that hunger and homelessness are on the rise in the United States, and the number of those living in poverty has increased exponentially since the beginning of the financial crisis. This past December, a U.S. Conference of Mayors stated that 86% of U.S. cities surveyed had experienced an increase in requests for emergency food aide during 2011. There was also a 6% increase in homelessness during the same year. … Poverty is quickly become an issue that needs to be tackled by presidential candidates before the upcoming elections. However, one would be hard-pressed to find a single statement by either Democratic or Republican candidates about this subject.

The U.S. Census Bureau currently claims that 15.1% of the population is living in poverty. This is the highest number in the U.S. since 1959 … .

For a look further “down,” read The Recession and Extreme Poverty.

The 2008 recession has caused massive increases in extreme poverty.

For the purpose of our analysis here, an individual … (is) “˜extremely poor’ if he or she resides in a family unit whose income is less than half of the federal poverty threshold … .

… in 2010, 6.7 percent of Americans were among the extreme poor, as compared to 5.2 percent in 2007 and 4.5 percent in 2000. … The unambiguous statistical trend since 2000 has been large increases in the fraction of Americans at the extreme end of poverty, with little to no change in the fraction of Americans considered “˜near poor.’

Peter Edelman provides another look in Low-Wage Nation: Poverty and Inequality Are Threatening Our Democracy.

… our safety net is in tatters at a time when 20.5 million people have incomes that amount to less than $9,500 a year. That’s half the poverty line, which is currently pegged at $19,090 for a family of three. This number grew by almost 8 million between 2000 and 2010.

The “War on Poverty” fit the vision that many have of who We the People are. What changed? Joseph Stiglitz writes in The Price of Inequality.

The “War on Poverty” fit the vision that many have of who We the People are. What changed? Joseph Stiglitz writes in The Price of Inequality.

… the American dream is a myth. There is less equality of opportunity in the United States today than there is in Europe “” or, indeed, in any advanced industrial country for which there are data.

… In the “˜recovery’ of 2009-2010, the top 1% of US income earners captured 93% of the income growth. Other inequality indicators “” like wealth, health, and life expectancy “” are as bad or even worse. The clear trend is one of concentration of income and wealth at the top, the hollowing out of the middle, and increasing poverty at the bottom. …

We won’t, of course, hear much if anything about this in the run-up to November. Poverty, it seems, is boring. It’s about “those people” who aren’t “middle class,” so don’t deserve even the election year attention the “middle class” enjoys. Or dreads, depending on your perspective.

Hey, did you hear the latest gaffe from the Romney and/or Obama campaign? Now that’s sexy news.

( War On Poverty Becomes War on Poor poster via Occupy Posters
Exceptionalism Flag via Occupy Posters )