Thursday, November 25, 2004

What Drives The Poverty Rate

The poverty rate was up for the third year in a row, according to 2003 records and that included almost thirteen million children. Walking the dog this evening along my snowy, moonlit mountain road I pondered just what it is that drives the poverty rate. Outsourced jobs and the third-world pay rates of McDonalds and Wal-Mart are too easy an answer. We’ve always had shit jobs at the bottom of the ladder. What for the most part has lifted the gifted among the poor has always been reasonably good health and education. That’s where desire comes from---from not being chronically sick and knowing there are other options beyond what you see in your neighborhood.

So, it’s strange to me that we as a nation continue to close down and nail over two of our most basic freedoms---staying healthy and getting an education---combined they are the fuel that runs our economic engine. The crunch of snow under my boots kept me free of considering the human issues behind all this. Humanity is hard to ignore by the warmth of a fire, but easy enough to set aside in the chill winter wind of reality-walks with my Labrador. Nothing like cold to clear the mind.

On the health issue, it seems to me in embracing the egalitarian concept of cat-scan access for all, we’ve accepted the impossibility of basic medical care for all citizens. I believe that’s hypocrisy at its most dangerous and fearsome. Health “insurance” is a vastly different concept than national health care. Insurance implies the ability to pay and the moving target of costs is currently $9,000 annually (and rising) for a family of four. Not an option unless your employer foots the bill or you’re well enough off to come up with nine grand in discretionary income. Thus 45 million Americans are uninsured---the bottom 45 mil and that impacts their chances of moving up (or anywhere). We oughta stop arguing and provide basic, uncomplicated, keep-you-from-dying-in-the-street national health care for everyone and insurance for those who can afford cat-scans.

As for education, in the fifty years since I left high school we’ve turned primary education (at least in the cities) into extended day-care. Discipline is gone, civility is gone as well and we face the conundrum of the worst primary and finest university systems in the world. We used to have the best of both, but pissed away the former. College is no longer a practical option except for the wealthy. Thus the 45 million Americans who are uninsured are pretty much the same 45 million prevented from university education.

Not because they’re not smart.

As we made the turn and I whistled the dog back, I looked out across this sleepy little mountain village and wondered if it suits our national dream to keep it so. Are the decision-makers among us content to keep thirteen million children from dreaming dreams? Worse yet, do the decision-makers among us think they have no dreams?

Crunching the last 200 yards home, I glanced up and looked at the house, it’s windows aglow, a friend up from Prague and a turkey in the oven. I thought about the life that brought me here, the constantly changing scene of friends who grace our home and the myriad influences on my life that shape my thought. I have missed many opportunities, done a bunch of things the wrong way and yet among my 260 million American compatriots there are 45 million who walk a different dog, one that at any moment may show the teeth of ignorance , disease or dreams never dreamed. It’s Thanksgiving and I’m not sure I’ve ever celebrated with such mixed thoughts about my advantage. I stomp my feet, hang up my coat, smell the dinner smells and glance approvingly at the fire in the fireplace.

And once again I am reminded that I haven’t moved away from my country so much as it is moving away from me.

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