Poor in America

The American dream might be possible for everyone when they're asleep, but almost 80 percent of U.S. adults have a decidedly different reality whilst awake. A recent survey conducted by The Associated Press reveals four out of five Americans experience anything from economic insecurity to abject poverty at some point in their adult lives.

Economic insecurity is defined as being jobless, relying on government assistance for at least a year, or having income below 150 percent of the poverty line. For a single person, the poverty threshold is $11,722.

The deteriorating socioeconomic condition of the general public is being fueled by a number of factors: fewer good-paying manufacturing jobs, the globalization of the economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, declining marriage rates and increasing single-parent households. The fastest growing segment -- and largest in sheer numbers -- is white Americans.

"Poverty is no longer an issue of 'them', it's an issue of 'us'," says Mark Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who calculated the numbers. "Only when poverty is thought of as a mainstream event, rather than a fringe experience that just affects blacks and Hispanics, can we really begin to build broader support for programs that lift people in need."

Trendlines show that by 2030, it will be 85 percent of U.S. adults who will be economically insecure.

What's particularly frightening for us is that it is in this context that Congress plans to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The House of Representatives successfully passed its version of the Farm Bill by stripping out S.N.A.P., which generally made up 80 percent of the cost.

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said: "What we have carefully done is exclude some extraneous pieces."

House Republicans are hoping to pare down the $80 billion annual spending on food assistance that currently serves one out of every seven Americans. Decreasing the aid that helps 47 million undernourished citizens is hardly "extraneous," in our opinion. But the conservative base is pushing for government to stop spending so much.

How large the proposed decrease could get is unknown at this point. One suggestion was a 3 percent cut, which surfaced while S.N.A.P. still was attached to the Farm Bill. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has $135 billion in cuts over the next decade.

We understand that a sizable percentage of residents in northwest Kansas likely applauded the separation of farm assistance and food stamps. We only hope it was because the two items are not germane and should stand on their respective merits.

Attempts to downsize government by taking food off the table of poor people in this country is an appalling notion. Those who support it either are in the upper echelons or are not currently experiencing hardship that will befall four out of every five adults.

Seventy-six percent of S.N.A.P. households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. Those vulnerable households receive 83 percent of all S.N.A.P. benefits.

Elected national leaders in America never will know the pain of hunger. It is up to the electorate to keep these politicians on the correct path.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net