1 in 9 Americans live in Poverty

Things that often don't make it into the American Press are often caught by foreign publications like The Observer.

A shocking 37 million Americans live in poverty. That is 12.7 per cent of the population - the highest percentage in the developed world. They are found from the hills of Kentucky to Detroit's streets, from the Deep South of Louisiana to the heartland of Oklahoma. Each year since 2001 their number has grown.

Under President George W Bush an extra 5.4 million have slipped below the poverty line. Yet they are not a story of the unemployed or the destitute. Most have jobs. Many have two. Amos Lumpkins has work and his children go to school. But the economy, stripped of worker benefits like healthcare, is having trouble providing good wages.

Even families with two working parents are often one slice of bad luck - a medical bill or factory closure - away from disaster. The minimum wage of $5.15 (£2.95) an hour has not risen since 1997 and, adjusted for inflation, is at its lowest since 1956. The gap between the haves and the have-nots looms wider than ever. Faced with rising poverty rates, Bush's trillion-dollar federal budget recently raised massive amounts of defence spending for the war in Iraq and slashed billions from welfare programmes.

That's 1 in 9 Americans. And 15 percent of those have slipped below the poverty line under Bush's watch. Real numbers: More than one in 100 Americans has fallen below the poverty line during Bush's first 5 years.
They are people like Freda Lee, 33, who has two jobs, as a marketer and a cashier. She has come to the nondescript Loaves and Fishes building - flanked ironically by a Burger King and a McDonald's - to collect food for herself and three sons. 'America is meant to be free. What's free?' she laughs. 'All we can do is pay off the basics.'

Or they are people like Tammy Reinbold, 37. She works part-time and her husband works full-time. They have two children yet rely on the food handouts. 'The church is all we have to fall back on,' she says. She is right. When government help is being cut and wages are insufficient, churches often fill the gap. The needy gather to receive food boxes. They listen to a preacher for half an hour on the literal truth of the Bible. Then he asks them if they want to be born again. Three women put up their hands.

This is the new American economy. Wal-Mart jobs instead of manufacturing jobs that the Unions have grown into living wage providers. A high school education won't get you very far anymore but without government help, the $50,000 buy in for a college education is out of most people's reach. Even public education is failing. If you can't get far without a high school diploma, how far do you think you can get without one? In Texas more than a third of students entering public high schools now drop out. Funding for social programs and public education is dwindling.

Where will 8 (or more) years of Repubican rule leave us?

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