In Ben Bernanke’s America, the recession is ending, stocks are rising, and cash is flowing. The housing crisis is over: banks that invested in subprime loans are flush with taxpayer dollars. The tent cities have disappeared from the outskirts of our cities, or at least they have disappeared from the front pages of our newspapers. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/26/us/26tents.html)
Then there is another America. This week we learned this week that this America is quite a bit larger than most of us thought. One in six Americans live here, and it is not an America of stock options, but instead an America of two options: buy food and get evicted or pay the rent and go hungry.
According to the National Academy of Science’s formula for determining the poverty rate, approximately 47.4 million Americans last year lived in poverty. This is 7 million more than the government’s official figure determined by the U.S. Census Bureau, which relies on an antiquated formula created in 1955.
A lot has changed since the “Ballad of Davy Crockett” was the #1 record in the U.S. and Eisenhower was president. But the Census Bureau’s poverty rate calculations have not. It does not factor in health costs, which have risen by double the rate of inflation (http://www.nchc.org/facts/cost.shtml. Nor does it consider increases in transportation and childcare. Under this archaic and flawed formula, the housing costs for a family living in New York City are identical to that of a family in Boise, Idaho.
This impoverished America is home to millions more poor people than the Census Bureau would have you believe — and tragically many of them are the elderly. Using the NAS formula, Americans over the age of 65 have a poverty rate that is twice as high (18.7%) as the Census Bureau’s figure.
The Christian Science Monitor writes: “Under either measure, poverty rose significantly last year as the nation was entering recession. And the number in poverty has gone up even more since the Census gathered data early last year, as the recession deepened.”
The bells on Wall Street ring hollow for a true end to the recession. This is especially true for those living in the other America, which has been hidden for too long under false numbers.
Its time for Congress and the Obama Administration to embrace an accurate measure of poverty. The public, politicians, and the media have long failed to acknowledge the existence of the poorly housed, hungry, and underpaid America. A necessary step toward addressing this crisis is acknowledging their existence in the government’s official record.