Luster of Christmas is lost as many hit hard times

12/22/2013 5:00 PM

12/22/2013 7:44 PM

Look past the pretty Christmas lights in Kansas City. Peer into its churches, homeless shelters and soup kitchens that serve the poor.

The need in this nation of plenty is huge and growing. The economic recovery has bypassed most Americans.

An Associated Press survey of more than three dozen economists found that a majority of them said the country has a growing wealth gap, and it is hurting our economy. The stock market, hitting record highs this year, has helped those at the top.

They’ve also benefited from the stimulus money, Federal Reserve policies, tax cuts for the wealthy and bailouts of corporations. But the heroic efforts have resulted in little wealth and not enough good jobs trickling down to everyone else.

People in the middle class are struggling to stay there. The Census Bureau reports that real household income dropped 8.3 percent from 2007 to 2012. Median household income in 2012 in the U.S. was $51,017.

For whites earnings rose from $56,570 in 2011 to $57,009 in 2012. For African-Americans, income inched from $32,902 in 2011 to $33,321. For Latinos it fell, going from $39,430 in 2011 to $39,005.

People struggle to keep food on the table and provide transportation and housing for their families. It’s no wonder a recent Bankrate.com survey reports that nearly 4 in 10 Americans will spend less this holiday season than last year.

The Census Bureau also reports that for the sixth straight year the poverty rate hasn’t improved. It has remained at 15 percent since the Great Recession, which was supposed to have ended in 2009.

Poverty grips 46.5 million people, including 16.1 million children. A family of four making $23,700 or less is living in poverty. The poverty rate was 12.5 percent in 2007 before the Great Recession.

These trends aren’t going unnoticed. The U.S. Conference of Mayors this month reported a continuing growth in the demand for emergency food and housing services. Homelessness is increasing.

What’s eye-opening is data compiled by Washington University professor Mark Rank. It shows that conditions aren’t getting better.

Rank’s data indicates that four in five Americans are “economically insecure.” Too many families still grapple with poverty, unemployment or rely on government antipoverty programs.

Rank says that based on the current growth rates of poverty, expect 85 percent of all working-age adults to experience economic insecurity at some point in their lives in the next 17 years. The report said 90 percent of people of color are economically insecure, but a growing percentage of whites are, too.

White families’ pessimism about their economic future has hit levels not seen since the savings and loan crisis of 1987. Poverty rates for working-class whites in the last 13 years have grown faster than any other ethnic group.

Conservatives love to label poverty and those on welfare as a people-of-color problem, but in sheer numbers whites comprise the largest group of poor Americans — 19 million households, making up 41 percent of the country’s poor.

“Poverty is no longer an issue of ‘them’, it’s an issue of ‘us’,” Rank told The Associated Press earlier this year.

The Urban Institute Research Center reported that in the last 20 years, the number of poor people in the suburbs had grown 64 percent compared with 29 percent in U.S. cities as more poor people, pursuing the American dream, move to what they hoped would be greener pastures.

The question people need to ask as Christmas and the New Year approach is what will government and corporations do to make hard times easier? Not everyone can win the lottery to escape poverty.

Everyday Americans just want to make an honest living. But the odds, like winning the lottery, appear stacked against them.

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