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Poverty: a discredit to the nation

Melvin B. Miller
Poverty: a discredit to the nation
“What’s the meaning of the Fourth of July to a family that’s poor and homeless?”

Implicit in the language of the Declaration of Independence is the prospect of prosperity, yet poverty has become too common in America. The Declaration states:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

While this philosophical aspect of the colonists’ complaints gets considerable attention, the economic aspects of their complaints should not be ignored. In the more extended statement of objection to Colonial rule, the nation’s forefathers object to the British government “…cutting off our trade with all parts of the world…” And the colonists are equally distressed by the government “…imposing taxes on us without our consent.”

Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration, 41 were slave owners. It is reasonable to conclude that many of the Founding Fathers were concerned enough about prosperity to set in motion strategies that jeopardized the republic and led to war in 1861 to preserve slavery. Since the Civil War, America has become one of the most industrially productive countries in the world.

Despite America’s great success in business, poverty is still a discredit to the nation. Conservative pundits make the rate of poverty acceptable by creating the fiction that poverty is a Black affliction. This is accomplished by focusing on disparate ratios. However, a white person suffering from hunger and food insecurity finds little comfort in the statistic that Blacks have a higher rate of poverty.

There are 194.6 million white Americans, and 14.2 million of them have an income below the poverty level. There are 8.1 million Blacks living in poverty, so the number of poor Blacks is less than the number of poor whites. However, because the Black population is only 43 million, the Black poverty rate is 18.8%, about 2 1/2 times higher than the rate for whites.

One wonders how so many white citizens can tolerate poverty and hunger as a resident of one of the world’s richest nations. In 1852, Frederick Douglass delivered a stirring speech called “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” One wonders how impoverished whites can participate in the celebration of America’s great economic achievements. 

Frederick Douglass, hunger in the U.S., July Fourth, poverty