Readers Write: The real definition and drivers of poverty
Letters to the Editor for the weekly print issue of November 5, 2012: Poverty is American hardly compares to poverty in Africa – in attitude and in hardship. The real cause of poverty in the US is job-killing free trade and oligarchic rule that widens the gap between rich and poor.
Dorset, Vt. and San Francisco
Real definition and drivers of poverty
The Oct. 8 cover story, "Who are you calling poor?," has an apt headline. One cannot help contrasting the pictures of well-fed (even plump) "impoverished" Americans discussed in the article with the photographs of gaunt, hollow-eyed parents and their children that we see in the letters from international aid charities.
As Jina Moore notes in her second article, "Gauging poverty from Appalachia to Africa," her Rwandan friends address their poverty with hard work, family- and community-sharing, and self-reliance. Perhaps the money Americans spend on one television set could be sent to a Rwandan family.
I hope the topic of poverty becomes the subject of a multipart series showing the myriad causes involved. Two Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalists, Donald Barlett and James Steele, have covered poverty for 40 years. They argue in their new book, "The Betrayal of the American Dream," that one big driver of poverty is free trade – supported by both US political parties. The consequence of free trade is now a US trade deficit of $10 trillion – resulting in enormous job losses. This problem should be in the mainstream discourse.
Unfortunately, the outsourcing of jobs has grown beyond the manufacturing sector to what Mr. Barlett and Mr. Steele list as 160 occupations, including high-value jobs such as aerospace engineers, anthropologists, chemical engineers, and even fashion designers. Large companies are even handing proprietary technology over to the Chinese. Meanwhile, our trading partners subsidize their own industries, such as solar, making it difficult for US companies to compete. US public policies need to be rethought.
As a result of job losses, America's tax revenue suffers. The loss of high-paying jobs is also doing much to enlarge the divide between the very, very rich and the fast-dwindling middle class. An oligarchic rule must be guarded against. America thrives on the middle class; we need to nourish and protect it.
The Monitor, with its excellent, impartial investigative reporting, can play a role in educating readers about the real causes of poverty.