Statistics only tell a part of any given societal dilemma, but the U.S Census Bureau reported this week that median household incomes dropped and poverty rose last year in the nation.
The bureau numbers seem to prove the obvious about the country’s weak economy and its staggering 9.1 national percent unemployment rate. In 2010, the $49,455 median household income was down by 2.3 percent from the previous year. The poverty rate stood at 15.1 percent in 2010 compared to 14.9 percent the previous year. The number of people without health insurance stands at an incredible 49.9 million.
An article in The New York Times points out that ” . . . the number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it.”
The most recent numbers reported specifically for Oklahoma show a 2009 median household income at $41,716 and a 16.1 percent poverty rate. By contrast, California had a $58,925 median household income and its poverty rate was 14.2 percent in the same year. Oklahoma does have a relatively lower unemployment rate at 5.5 percent, but it could still be lower, and record numbers of residents here are seeking food assistance.
Oklahoma also had a child poverty rate of 22 percent for 2009, according to Anne E. Casey Foundation. This is a statistic that doesn’t bode well for the state’s future. What will happen with impoverished children when they become adults? Children who live in poverty do less well in school and are more likely to stay in poverty when they grow up. What does that mean for the state’s overall economy?
Some larger questions: Are the nation and Oklahoma undergoing a systemic financial change that will mean chronic unemployment, lower salaries and higher poverty for the foreseeable future? Is the political process, one which has consistently rewarded wealthy people over middle-class citizens in recent decades, toxic and unfair? How do corporate media outlets affect our debate over these important issues?
Behind the statistics are individual stories of physical and mental suffering, but the overall narrative is that our country has lost its way in ugly maze of wealth disparity, greed and lack of basic compassion. When this will come back to haunt us in major ways that demand significant structural change in our political process?