Poor choices:
Government needs to work harder to combat poverty

Imagine these cold December mornings that you can't pay your heating bill and that the federal money you've counted on to keep the furnace going has been cut off.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program has enough funding this year to help only 16 percent of the 38 million low-income American families eligible for the program, Reuters reported in October.

If you're poor in the winter, you probably don't have enough clothes to stave off the chill, don't have a usable credit card to buy what you need, and are very likely on the edge of hunger most of the time.

While right wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation paint poverty in America as almost luxurious, I wonder how many of the 46 percent of poor households in which people supposedly "actually own their own homes," can afford to keep them warm, while keeping up the house payments, paying the property taxes, fixing the bad roofs, caring for impoverished parents, paying for medicines with no insurance, and coping with rising gas prices?

If you're among the 38 million of us who live at or below the poverty line, you're trying to do all that on $16,000 to $18,000 a year. How about the people making $20,000 or $25,000? They're so close to poverty these days that saving is out of the question.

Such luxury! What baloney!

Before 1980, we thought poverty in America had been nearly defeated. But early in that decade, Republicans and Democrats cut some $12 billion from food stamp and nutrition programs for kids. It was all downhill from there.

As the rich amassed their billions during the boom years of the late 20th century, hourly wage earners saw their paychecks rise an average of 38 cents an hour from 1979 to 2000, according to J. Larry Brown, head of the Institute on Assets and social Policy at Brandeis University. Salaried workers realized weekly raises of some $27, while the rich paid fewer and fewer taxes, and the salaried paid more and more.

More than 17 percent of New Mexicans live in poverty, U.S. Census Bureau figures show. That's well over 313,000 people.

If you add up the people who are marginally over the poverty line, that number hovers near a half a million, probably more than half of them children.

And most of the burden of poverty falls on minority populations, according to Census Bureau data last year. White households had incomes one-half to two-third higher than those of African Americans and Hispanics, the Center for American Progress reports.

I wish there was an easy way to lay the blame for this and vote the devils out of office. But poverty has grown during the reigns of both parties.

This is about greed trumping compassion, and we all need to search our souls and work to stop it.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
December 8, 2007