The government’s newly released statistics showing a record 46 million Americans living in poverty were shocking but not surprising. The dismal economic trends of the past few years made a surge in poverty predictable. But the sheer magnitude of the problem – greater than any time in the 52 years since such records have been kept – cannot fail to shock the conscience of the nation.
But it unfortunately has failed to shock the conscience of politicians and policymakers. Perhaps most surprising of all is the tepid response and the utter failure of the President or any other national political leader to come forward with a set of bold proposals designed to reverse this devastating descent into despair for so many of our fellow Americans. Most failed to even muster expressions of sympathy. The media’s front page coverage was met by sounds of silence.
Jobs creation is of course a critical piece of what is needed. And there has been a belated focus on that. But even in periods of robust economic growth, and much better employment rates, such as during the Clinton Administration in the 1990’s, we’ve had more than 30 million Americans stuck below poverty and little effort made to reach them.
There’s a callousness settling into our political system that is deeper and more disturbing than the kind that is reflected in the political infighting and cheap shots that have become par for the course under the Capitol dome. It’s a callousness toward the suffering of other human beings who have nothing to do with politics or one’s political adversaries, but simply have the misfortune to be vulnerable and voiceless. There are 46 million of them now and they need someone in Washington with the courage to speak out on their behalf.
A nation indifferent to the fate of 15 percent of its own citizens has worse shocks ahead.