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For the poor, the misery just keeps piling up

ASK THIS | June 24, 2009

Some are gasping for air, some drowning, writes Judith Bell. The impact of the economic collapse on everyday life – on how to get to work (if they have a job), on health, on housing, can be enormous. It's an important, moving story in every community.

By Judith Bell

There's an old saying that when the nation's economy gets a cold, poor people catch pneumonia. In this shattered economy, poor folks basically have the swine flu. As Nickel and Dimed author Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in the New York Times June 14th, "The misery at the bottom just keeps piling up, like a bad debt that will eventually come due."

Poor Americans – those who were just scraping by before the recession – are  gasping for air...and many are just simply drowning. The Ehrenreich piece should prompt reporters to ask many questions about how poor people are uniquely affected by this downturn in ways far more personal and dire than having to forgo a vacation or any other middle class cutback.

Q. What's the economic impact of public transit cuts on poor people?

Low-income families disproportionately rely on public transit to get to and find work. In cities across America, public transit operating budgets are getting slashed. For low-income people working multiple part-time jobs at different locations, how can they get to and from work? How can they find new work? The personal economy of millions of Americans rests on the availability of reliable, affordable public transit.

Q. What impact does the recession have on the health of poor people?

Low-income people already live disproportionately in unhealthy communities. Bad air. Cramped living conditions. Lack of fresh food stores. No safe, clean parks. Now, as states feel the budget crunch, they are cutting back on even the most basic health-care programs for low-income families. California may cut one million kids off its health-care rolls. Diabetes and obesity-related diseases were already running roughshod over poor communities. The economic freefall will only make matters worse.

Q. What about housing for poor people in this economy?

America's poor were, by and large, spared the first effects of the mortgage crisis. Of course, that was because most poor Americans couldn't begin to dream of affording a home in the hyped-up bubble market in the first place. But now speculators and overextended investors who own rental units that many poor people live in are themselves facing foreclosure. That often means eviction for the tenants and a mad rush to find a new place to live. Poor people who were shut out of the dream of homeownership by high-flying speculators are now being hit again as those speculators crash to earth.

Today's bad economic times are an unusual moment of real connection between the poor and those in the middle class who find themselves becoming poor, plus all the others who fear that they could be next (and might be).   Reporting on the real challenges and issues of being poor, and exploring what can be done to bring back opportunities for low-income communities and communities of color, is writing about a burgeoning reality – not some far-off foreign never-never land.

Posted by clc
06/27/2009, 09:03 PM

We need to take our government back. This is an atrocity what has and is continuing to happen to our nations working poor, poor and already destitute poor. Many of the poor are Veterans; so much for "Support The Troops". As a Naval Veteran with 23 years of service this is just a slogan for the brainwashed. May America start blessing God, by taking care of those who need help.

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