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Poverty & U.S. Priorities

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The national poverty rate rose to 12.7 percent of the population, according to statistics released earlier this week. The increase of 1.1 million Americans living in poverty, bringing the total to 37 million, marked the fourth straight annual increase (from 2001-2004). The Census Bureau also said household income remained flat, while another 800,000 Americans are now without health insurance.

Close to a third of those living in poverty are children.

The numbers have been rising steadily. The last decline in the nation’s poverty rate was under President Bill Clinton in 2000. Since then, the number of Americans living in poverty has jumped from 31.1 million people to 37 million. The poverty threshold for a family of four for 2004 was set at $19,307 or less, and at $12,334 or less for a family of two.

What’s the state or federal government doing about it? Proposing cuts for agencies serving the poor, and refusing to raise any taxes to help.

Surely such national priorities are misguided and don’t represent the generous nature of most Americans to help those in need.

How can the average American help? By recognizing that it is morally wrong for a politician to suggest that government should not be responsible for its citizens; that the care of our poorest citizens is best left to non-government entities; and that taxes on those who can afford to pay is not even an option. Such policies do not represent the America we think of as we sing the national anthem, the America that the world has long respected, or the America that we aspire to become.

This is not a call to reinvent the welfare system of the 1960s, but neither can Americans be proud of policies that dole out hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate welfare and increase the gap between rich and poor Americans, while those families in need see cuts in necessary programs year after year.

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