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American poverty that reflects the European reality
by Thanos Kalamidas
2010-09-17 08:05:58
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Reading in the news that one in seven Americans was living in poverty for the year 2009 according the US Census Bureau I felt my spine shivering and naturally my mind returned to Europe and especially to Greece. But this moment it’s not only Greece that lives the nightmare of the economic recession but all the European countries is just that Greece belongs to the euro-zone and that her economic situation can work like a domino effect to the other members of the euro-zone.

But let’s return to the land of hope. USA has been for long the land of opportunities and chances. The promise land where a poor immigrant with hard work and a bit of luck can become a millionaire. The land of equal chances. The number of the people who live in poverty in USA is nearly 43.6 million people. These people more likely lost their chances and opportunities and now the only thing left for them is survival.

Think of it, according the Bureau poverty means a family of four that lives with income less than $21.9000 a year. In euro that means 16.700€ a year or 1.390€ a month. Four people, father mother and two kids. Now think how much is the average rent for an apartment in a short of poor area anywhere in Europe. More or less for a two bedrooms house is around 700€ and if you add to that electricity, gas and water bills you are somewhere around 800€. That means that a family of four has to live for a month with 590€ covering all kind of expenses; food, clothing, school and all kind of extra needs. To give you an idea the average price of gallon of milk in Europe is around 2.40€, remembering that a family with two kids needs a gallon of milk a day do your calculations.

I brought everything to the European reality most of all trying to help me but the question remains, how many people in this side of the ocean try to survive probably with less than these 16.500€? And in USA there is the US Census Bureau but what is in Europe for the same job is unknown. Actually the European community has to relay on what the member states report but what comes from Romania or Bulgaria or even Poland is a big question.

And I brought the example of the three countries adding to that Greece but that doesn’t mean that the situation in UK, France or Germany is any better, after all these countries have been for long the European promise lands. Including the “hidden” homeless (people who live with friends or relatives) the number of homeless in England alone is near to 400.000 people. The same time in Germany the number of people who live in the limits of poverty is near the 24% of the population. And I repeat we are talking about people who are fighting for their survival and they have lost their dignity doing anything possible to bring food on their table. There are hundreds of people in France who work for less than 5€ an hour in France when they can find a work and all these are stats announced from the states. The reality is a totally different story. Since how these stats work from one member country to the other is a long story.

For example somebody is considered unemployed in Greece after having work at least for a year which means that people who have just left school or college and they might look for a job for a couple of years are not considered unemployed therefore they are not included in the stats and of course they have no income adding their expenses to their family’s budget, perhaps the 1.390€ a month we were talking before. And similar examples there are from all around Europe with sometimes the governments manipulating the stats for internal reasons.

And what the European Union is doing; the institution obliged with the protection of the European citizens? Please don’t wake up Olli Rehn after all this time he spends lately with the IMF he needs some rest! Then it is all these meetings with the bankers for the extra money their shareholders need and not to forget the industry that needs some more funding from the states. 

The numbers shown by the US Census Bureau somehow reflect the reality we can read behind the numbers in this side of the ocean and in USA the American president at least shows to be aware of the problem and planning to do something, the European leadership in this side of the side takes a nap that lasts for two years and who knows for how much more. 

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Emanuel Paparella2010-09-17 09:37:09
Food for thought here. It brings me back to a televisde symposium of Nobel prize winners on the issue of poverty and hunger, hosted by Sir David Frost of the BBC in which most scientists agreed that we in the West have the technology and the know-how to eliminate hunger and poverty from the face of the earth especially in regard to children; that it was a pseudo-problem, a mere matter of logistics; hunger could be eliminated in a very short time. At that point, a Nobel winner in poetry, Octavio Paz got up and said something to his eminent scientist laureates (and I paraphrase): gentlemen, you have the diagnosis correct but the prognosis incorrect. The issue is not one of logistic but one of dehumanization. In ten years the problem of poverty in the West will not be better but worst even if the technology to solve it will have improved by then; for you see gentlemen the real question that we ought to be asking and discussing is not whether or not we have the ability to solve the problem in short order, but what does it do to our humanity to know that we have such an ability and do precious little about it.

Indeed, we in the West on both sides of the Atlantic pond not only have done precious little about it, but we now find ourselves in a spiraling economic condition and can do even less than what we could do ten years ago; which proves Octavio Paz a prophet of sort and his prognosis much more correct than that of his fellow Laureate scientists. It also proves C.P. Snow’s “The Two Worlds” correct, that is to say the sad situation in which the world of science and that of humanism and liberal arts are incomprehensible to each other and think each other dispensable; thus we end up with humanists who do not know the facts of a problem and mouth platitudes and scientists who believe that everything is a matter of logistics and there is no real problem. It also proves Thomas Jefferson correct when he said that those who put economic considerations above those of freedom deserve to lose both. That prophecy has not come about yet, but as the painter Giorgione said about one of his paintings: “col tempo” [give it time]. The cynics among us must be having a great time in the sad times in which we live, for the clouds on the horizon look pretty dark and ominous. We need more people like Octavio Paz who question basic taken for granted assumptions and the conventional wisdom of a misguided age.

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