Join SLAP to fight poverty: No one is free from the threat of being poor

By Gokcer Ozgur and Al Campbell

Gokcer Ozgur SLAP memberGuest Columnist

Al CampbellSLAP Faculty AdviserGuest Columnist

When it comes to economic progress and equality most people think, “A rising tide lifts all the boats.”

While it sounds logical, it’s not always the case. As early as 1962, Michael Harrington was one of the many who challenged this widely accepted myth.

In his book, The Other America, he showed the great economic inequalities in American society. Amid the post-war economic prosperity, half of Americans were living in poverty.

This “other America” still exists today. Even the longest economic boom in U.S. economic history during 1990s did very little to solve the problem, and in some ways worsened it.

It is often argued that Americans are better off now than in the 1960s because per capita income has increased. However, this does not tell us anything about income inequality or poverty.

According to the “Economic Report of the President,” real average weekly earnings for all workers are lower in 2003 than it used to be during 1960s (quoted in Albelda, R., Drago, R. W, Shulman, S., “Unlevel Playing Grounds,” Cambridge: Dollars & Sense, 2004, p. 16). If we look at the wealth inequality figures once again, we will see that today the wealthiest 10 percent of U.S. households own 69 percent of all wealth while the bottom 50 percent owns a mere 2.8 percent (Collins et. al. “The Wealth Inequality Reader,” Cambridge: Dollars & Sense, 2004, p.6).

Too many college students tend to ignore the idea that they will have their lives influenced by this “other America” and might even become a part of it. Poverty (or near poverty) has become a real-life problem that everyone may potentially face-including college graduates.

The chances of living in poverty may be smaller for a college graduate than a high school dropout, but rising poverty and inequality of wealth are a threat for everyone.

A bachelor’s degree is no longer a sure ticket out of poverty. Rising health costs, the elimination of economic safety nets and the ever-rising costs of higher education are imminent threats for students.

High education costs result in more college graduates entering the work force with a negative net worth (debt).

Even if you get a “decent job,” the entire wage scale builds from the lowest paid jobs up. Lower minimum wages lower the entire scale, except at the very top (a very small place) where salaries are irrelevant to the vast majority of college graduates.

There are no simple solutions to the bad practices and policies adopted over the last 30 years.

Turning around and getting on a healthy and humane path will likewise take decades of continual change. We in the U’s Student Labor Action Project hope that many graduates will join us in thinking about what is needed for such a restoration. It begins with a concern for the poor and near poor, which certainly does or will include a number of our friends.

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