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Deserving attention: the 1 percent we don’t talk about, but should

The number of American families living on $2 per person per day has skyrocketed to 1½ million American households, including 3 million children.

In the rancorous beginning to the 2016 presidential campaign we hear about the top 1 percent in the country. Economist Thomas Piketty has warned us we may well be “on the road to not just a highly unequal society, but to a society of oligarchy.” There has been debate how we shrink the income inequality in the United States.

Jim Scheibel

I hope that the bottom 1 percent get their share of the attention in the new year. In 2014 the official poverty rate was 14.8 percent. There were 46.7 million people in poverty. For a family of three in the U.S., it worked out to about $16.50 per person per day.

“Deep poverty” is set at half the poverty line, or about $8.60 per person per day. One in 20 Americans live on an income that is at 50 percent of the poverty line, and nearly 16 million Americans still fall below that 50 percent of poverty line. Perhaps most disturbing is that the number of people living on $2 per day has increased substantially in the last 15 years.

Living on $2 per day

In “$2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America,” Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer introduce us to the 1 percent we should be talking about, those people who are living on $2 per person per day. The number of American families living on $2 per person per day has skyrocketed to 1½ million American households, including 3 million children.

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This is a disgrace. The stories Edin and Shaefer share are heartbreaking, and should serve as a call to action for all of us. We need to acknowledge that in ending welfare as we knew it we also eliminated the safety net.

Both parties appear to be ignoring citizens who need their attention the most — those in deep poverty. William Julius Wilson told The New York TimesEduardo Porter, “this should be a major issue; unfortunately nobody has organized those people.”

Let’s build a strategy

There is plenty of space for bipartisan effort against poverty. Let’s debate what kind of safety we need. Let’s build a strategy to end poverty. Let’s heed the words of Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation: “Generosity is no longer enough. We should seek to bring out lasting systemic change.”

Let’s talk about this 1 percent. What we say can become what we do.

Jim Scheibel, a former mayor of St. Paul, is Professor of Practice in the Management, Marketing and Public Administration Department, Hamline University. He is a former director of both AmeriCorps VISTA and the Senior Corps. 

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