From America’s War on Poverty to a War on the Poor
ANGLO AMERICA, 2 Jul 2018
For our leaders to dismiss one-fifth of Americans as a drag on the economy is egregious and irresponsible.
27 Jun 2018 – Fifty years ago, President Johnson waged an ambitious war on poverty. Today, I’m worried the government has shifted priorities.
For a cadre of wealthy, privileged Americans, many at the highest levels of government, there’s a growing tendency to malign low-income communities. Dr. Ben Carson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is the latest to engage in a full throttle attack on needy families. It’s inconceivable why Dr. Carson has chosen the most vulnerable Americans to attack, but the impact of this rhetoric is devastating.
Dr. Carson advocates for pulling the safety net out from under struggling Americans, removing the very programs (welfare, Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance) that help these families keep their heads above water, their children healthy, their families fed and roofs above their heads.
Seventy million people – one out of five Americans – are currently covered by Medicaid, a joint federal and state program that helps with medical costs for individuals with limited income and resources. These are primarily hard-working families struggling to stay ahead of rising housing, food and living costs, while their meager salaries remain stagnate. They are the same group that Donald Trump once referred to as the backbone of America.
As a CEO of a public hospital system and now director of Contra Costa County’s health department, I’ve spent my entire professional life working to make sure there is a safety net to protect those who have been placed in jeopardy by health and economic issues. This experience provides a different perspective than the one proffered by Dr. Carson.
Our lowest income families are not shirkers. They are not lazy. They are resourceful and hard working. On a daily basis, they face prejudice, poverty, homelessness, discrimination and shaming – challenges that would break most middle and upper-class Americans. Without the minor supports the safety net offers, many of these individuals risk sinking into even more desperate poverty and illness.
The Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) freed 30 million more Americans from having to make the choice between basics like food or housing and health. Contrary to Carson’s assertion, this is exactly what’s allowing Americans get back to work.
Without health care, financially strapped parents have no choice but to put their health on the backburner as they deal with immediate issues like jobs, paying rent and putting food on the table. Consequently, they may wait to seek health care until their health reaches a crisis stage, which leads to the most expensive, and least effective, form of health care.
This is the best economic argument for providing people in need with access to care. By providing coverage and care through the ACA and Medicaid expansion for millions of Americans, we saw the rate of increase in the percentage of GDP attributed to health care costs begin to flatten for the first time in 50 years.
But Dr. Carson and many others suggest we’re making life too easy for low-income families by offering them care. Easy? The average cost of health care in America for a family of five is approximately $17,000 a year – nearly half the salary of a family struggling to make ends meet on an income of $40,000. That’s not easy, that’s impossible!
The most troubling part of Dr. Carson’s diatribe is the stigma he perpetuates by implying that poor people accepting any level of government assistance are a drain on society.
For our leaders to dismiss one-fifth of Americans as a drag on the economy is egregious and irresponsible. These are hard-working, contributing people, subject to an economic system that creates a chasm between the haves and have-nots. Stigmatizing them for conditions largely out of their control is irresponsible and shameful.
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