We Are All Poor

Yesterday, over on Facebook, I linked to a couple stories about corruption among the Republicans’ ranks. It was (is) the usual thing: state governor decides to weaken the collective strength that makes union workers work in unions, does this in the name of budget deficits, then gives an $80K+ job to a campaign donor’s son who never finished college; and a CEO starts a nonprofit to raise his company’s profile, giving $35K of its raised funds to organizations in need and $262K to the privileged daughter of a reality TV star slash former GOP VP candidate.

I’ve been calling it robbing from the poor to pay the rich, and I recognize the dangers in the neat abstraction. “The poor” and “the rich” are ideas and not people, even though it’s true in this country that actual people are very very poor while others are very very rich. I’m trying to argue we’re all poor.

Everyone I know, at least. If you’re reading this blog you are poor. Because the United States is now a poor country—as poor a first-world country can be, that is. I’ll point to the stuff Americans used to rely on their government for so faithfully we never even thought much about it. I’ll point to our roads, bridges, and highways. I’ll point to the U.S. Postal Service, closing 2,000 branches over the next year and raising rates what seems like quarterly. I’ll point to schools.

And I’ll point to those in need. A.k.a. the poor. Our U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that cuts funding for WIC programs, which allows for families to feed their children. It also aims to , which aids seniors (exponentially growing in numbers) in their health care, and cap spending on Medicaid, which provides health care for, again, the poor.

None of this is (or, well, should be) news to you. Nor is it news that all this proposed defunding of the stuff at the center of so many Americans’ lives is done in the name of getting this poor country out of debt. We’re trillions of dollars in. That is, the cost of running the country (the price we pay as citizens receiving its benefits and care) is trillions of dollars more expensive than it should be. The House’s proposed cuts to our operating budget would save us between $30 billion and $60 billion.

In short: spending cuts won’t lower the cost of living in this country. They, will, though, make us poorer.

I guess I’m talking quality of life here. And I know I want to iterate what I mean by “us”. I mean U.S. citizens. I mean you and the people running our government. It’s easy to forget the government is us, voted in by us, peopled by the American people. It’s also easy to forget that the poor—people on Medicaid or food stamps, people looking for work who can’t find it—are us as well. We are all poor. We live poorly these days in a poor country.

There are some folks who aren’t poor. Who have more money collectively that 99 percent of all Americans combined. The amount of money they pay into the budget gets less and less each year. The amount of money all of us pay toward the budget gets less and less each year. When was the last time you were asked to spend more money at the post office? The gas tank? The barber shop? When was the last time you were asked to spend more at tax season?

Ninety percent of the federal transportation budget, which among other things keeps bridges from collapsing, comes from the gas tax. This hasn’t been raised in nearly 20 years, says the Brookings Institution. We’re all at fault. This isn’t a Republican/Democrat thing. The president we voted for decided to forego asking the few people in this country who are not poor to pony up for the services this country renders.

It made a mild ruckus for a couple weeks.

My point here is this, and I know I’m just Tony Judt-ing everyone here, but there’s a connection between how little money we seem to have—as citizens, as a country—and how little money we’re asked to spend. There’s an apathy toward the poor—toward potentially becoming poor, not having enough of “our” hard-earned money, toward giving away what we deem our own—that maybe comes out of a romance with wealth or maybe comes out of a scary sort of recognition that we are all poor. We’re all already poor.

Enough, I guess. It’s extremely sad being an American these days.

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