The Business Page of the Tribune on 9/11/13 carried this headline: “Rich-poor divide widest since 1920s.” The Associated Press article revealed that in 2012, 48.2 percent of total earnings went to only 10% of the population, and since the Great Recession ended in June of 2009, 95% of the income gains have gone to the top 1 percent of the of the population.
I’m happy for those who are doing well financially. But is there concern for those who aren’t? Apparently not much. To add insult to injury, the House of Representatives is likely to take up debate next week on a Nutrition Bill that includes a 40% cut in SNAP (formerly called Food Stamps, and now called CalFresh in California) over the next 10 years. Some believe that cutting the safety net for the poor – the very resources that are needed to help them climb out of poverty by eating well, and their children by doing well in school – is a legitimate way to balance the budget. They would like those receiving CalFresh to just get a job, ignoring the fact that most CalFresh recipients are working hard in jobs that provided a liveable wage, and that many jobs that use to provide middle-class incomes are gone. As the article states, “Workers now compete with low-wage labor in China and other developing countries. Technology is replacing workers in performing routine tasks, and union power has dwindled.”
The number of people we serve at the Food Bank has not declined, but increased as a result of this lopsided recovery. Many social services have already been cut drastically during and after the recession, driving families to us desperate for food. More cuts will only increase the chasm between the rich and the poor. We are doing our best to provide healthy food to those in need, and to help people enroll for CalFresh if they are eligible. We are grateful to our donors because we can only do this with the incredible support we get from our community. But as a community we need to expect more from our government as well. Only the government can invest in our infrastructure, creating meaningful jobs. Only the government can invest in those millions who need a hand-up, a good education, or affordable health-care just to have a shot at self-reliance and moving up the economic ladder. If we the people who elect our leadership don’t care about those in need, it is clear in this post- Great Recession era, that no one will. Closing the gap between the rich and the poor and re-creating a strong middle class can only be done by responsibly strengthening our social services, not by reducing them. If you agree now is the time to contact your representatives in Washington.