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It’s Time for an Honest National Dialogue About Poverty

However bad conditions are for the middle-class, they are far more acute for the poor, who are trapped in squalid circumstances far below middle-class standards of survival. The “help-the middle-class-first” option, which might accurately be termed “trickle-down lite,” will not help those at the bottom of our society.

by Robert L. Terrell


The failure of both of the two major candidates for the presidency to address poverty in their appeals for support on election day is a bad sign.

Moreover, poverty was not significantly addressed at the Democratic and Republican national conventions. Rather, spokespersons at each convention held forth with varying degrees of coherence and eloquence regarding the need to provide all manner of support for the beleaguered middle-class.

There is nothing inherently wrong with that. The middle-class is indeed beleaguered, and many of its members are experiencing extreme economic hardship. Moreover, it is clear, to me at least, that many of the industries that provided the jobs middle-class people have depended on to provide the means of economic survival during the post-World War II era will never again employ such large numbers of workers.

Several factors are responsible, most notably the transformation in the basic structure of the national economy in response to globalization. Industrial production is not slated to disappear from the United States, but the factories of the future located in this nation will probably employ more robots than humans.

Competition from low-salaried workers in non-Western sections of the world is another important factor regarding the current and future employment options for middle-class U.S. workers. That competition is not going to go away, and all indications are that it will become more intense via the process of integrating the world’s national economies more closely through globalization.

Little attention was devoted to this topic during the national political conventions, and that continues to be the case even though election day is only weeks away. It is probably reasonable to assume that this important omission is due in part to ignorance and avoidance.

The ignorance factor is at least partially due to the fact that too few of this nation’s leaders have spent sufficient time studying the global dimensions of the nation’s overall economic performance. Thus, representatives of the two major parties commonly discuss the nation’s pressing economic issues in ways that indicate they are barely conscious of the increasingly important global economic arena.

The avoidance factor is probably a function of latent recognition that successive, and simultaneous, wars; repeated, massive tax cuts for the wealthy; poor stewardship of public resources; and the relentless war against everyone else being carried out by the emergent, plutocrat class, are engendering troubling transformations in the character and quality of life in this nation that no politician wants to publicly acknowledge.

The rise in poverty and the suffering of the homeless poor was not addressed at either the Democratic or Republican national conventions. Robert L. Terrell photo


As a result, the best our political leaders can bring themselves to do regarding our serious national economic dilemma is to offer depressingly timid promises to help the middle-class. This is good, but not nearly sufficient because even if all the promises to help the middle-class are indeed kept, only a portion of the serious economic problems of the overall population will have been addressed.

The key point being made here is that however bad conditions are for the middle-class, they are far more acute for the poor, who are bearing the brunt of this nation’s highly inadequate response to the endemic social and economic tsunami under way among those trapped in squalid circumstances far below middle-class standards of succor and survival.

Moreover, the “help the middle-class first” option, which might accurately be termed trickle-down lite, will do little more to help those at the bottom than it did to help the middle-class when a variant version was applied by the Reagan and Bush administrations via tax cuts for the wealthy.

Given this, it is clear that it is long past time that we begin a more frank and honest dialogue regarding the nation’s social and economic problems, one that devotes major attention to poverty, and the tens of millions of citizens trapped at the bottom of the socio-economic order with few viable options to improve their wretched circumstances.

Lastly, it ought to be clear to anyone with at least half a functioning brain that the nation can’t ultimately prosper if 47 percent of the population is written off as hopeless losers.

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