Harrington’s essay from The Other America brings up some very interesting points relating to today’s conditions in America. He tells of some 40 -50 million people who are poor. These people, he says, are invisible to the rest of America’s inhabitants and for several reasons. We see today that he is right but not to the degree that he perceived it in the 1960’s.
Today in America, there are a recorded 34.5 million people who are considered to be poor by the U.S. government. In a press release from the U.S. Census Bureau, this number has dropped since 1989 on average though is not the lowest it has been. The poverty rate in America declined from 13.3% to 12.7% in just one year. Also, median household income, the income that half of America earns above and half of America earns below, has increased by 3.5% to $38,900. The United States Census Bureau compiled these estimates for 1998. The fact that these numbers are, on average, dropping, while all around the United, the population is growing, is quite a statement. Something in government policies such as welfare, workfare, or other sources of poverty relief, in combination with better education and community service groups, is having a beneficial effect on the poor of the nation. Harrington expressed his concern about the lack of desire to help the poor in the government. Current society seems to contradict that statement, however weakly, and may become stronger in the years to come.
Harrington also expressed concern that no one realizes the poor exist anymore. Their neighborhoods are becoming increasingly distant from those of the middle-class and this isolation causes a lack of support for them from politically active people. It is seen quite easily by travelling around many areas that the poor are invisible to the rest of the country. We never see the slums Harrington talks about in our area. Not even when we vacation to other parts of the country, to New York City, to highly urbanized areas, do we see people who barely make enough money to support themselves. They are quite separated from the rest of society simply because the economy and standards of living define it to be so. They can only afford houses of poor quality in bad neighborhoods so they group together naturally. It isn’t the fault of middle class America that quality homes are nowhere near the slums. It’s just normal layering of living standards. The effects of this however are still the same. As discussed earlier in the semester, the poor are less likely to participate in politics. This mainly stems from the fact that they are too busy trying to earn a living. These two factors combined make a bad situation worse. Now we have poor people who have no one to speak in the government. They can’t do it themselves because they work. No on else will do because not enough people are aware of the problems.
Harrington is right in his assessment of the poor of America, stating that interest in the group is very low, that their political voice is virtually non-existent, and their lives have little effect on the affluent of society. Despite all these facts, the poor are increasingly declining in numbers. Through programs and agencies, through hard-work and rugged individualism, it seems that the poor are pulling themselves through, alone and struggling. And that has always been the way. When an immigrant moved to America, there was no one to help him. They made it because they desired to make it. They took much lower paying jobs under much worse conditions, lived in worse slums than are lived in today, and made a name for themselves. Harrington therefore seems right in yet another aspect of his observations; the poor need to be mobilized emotionally. If an uncaring anonymous welfare program gives them help, they lose faith and desire. If others around them work and are happy to earn the most meager of livings because they had nothing, then the poor will work harder at improving their status.
Slowly we plug along, trying to solve the problem. A long-term view shows we have been successful. Perhaps we need to work harder and faster at it, but this is the rate things of this size change at; slow. There is hope yet.