15 Sep 2011

Living in a Dream world – and poverty

Grinding poverty in the world’s richest nation is an old story.

Take the express train from New York to Washington DC and from the whoosh and whisper of the Quiet Car you can watch a landscape of urban decay that is worthy of a disaster movie set.

Less than a mile from the ITN bureau in DC and thus only a stone’s throw from the splendidly white-domed Capitol, you will find plenty of windows boarded up with plywood, iron bars on doors or sofas spilling their guts on the front porch.

When living room furniture migrates to the front of the house, you know that something has gone horribly wrong.

Washington DC specialises in African American poverty. Drive to West Virginia and you can witness the white rural variety.

These images are not new. What is new is the alarming trend at which poverty is growing. The ranks of the nouveau-poor have been expanding for four years in a row. They now embrace more than 46m Americans.

Homeless and needy people line up to receive bottles of cold waterThe bar for poverty is set horrifyingly low: for a family of four it is just 22,314 USD per annum, about 14,000 pounds. For a single person it is half that.

Not surprisingly the numbers are far from equal across America’s ethnic landscape. 38 per cent of black men have slipped from the middle class into poverty. The number for white men is 21 per cent.

These statistics are courtesy of the Pew Foundation in their report called Middle Class DOWNward mobility, Waking Up From the American Dream.

It makes for sobering reading. But the dismal numbers are not matched by the mood. Americans still cling to the American Dream, even though reality would warrant a wake up call.

I still haven’t decided whether this is delusional or admirable, or both. What’s more this economic crisis has coincided with an election cycle and an American politician is as likely to declare that he doesn’t believe in the Dream as he is to admit that he doesn’t believe in God.

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7 reader comments

  1. Saltaire Sam says:

    History suggests that one man’s dream is usually built on the back of a nightmare for several others.

    It was true in 19C Britain and it would appear to be true in 21C USA. And as the dream gets bigger and the dreamer gets to won more – there and here – it seems more people suffer the nightmare

  2. George Sandeman says:

    Went to the states for the first time this Summer and was totally taken aback by the number of homeless people on the streets. Just to the East of the White House in Pershing Park sleep many homeless men in (unusually for central DC) a rundown and unkempt garden monument. The water feature is green with heavy algal growth and the smell is stifling.

    Never thought that so close to the seat of power in arguably the most developed country on Earth would you find such inequality.

  3. BLAKE says:


  4. charlie stevenson says:

    Has anybody ever played monopoly ? those that have will no doubt remember the enthusiasm at the beginning, and then the greed of the strongest players kicks in. What an analogy !!!

  5. Philip Edwards says:


    You do realise that telling this truth to a certain type of American will draw down the kind of reactionary wrath we see in London at the moment.

    Our unloved capital is currently explaining to the world that the recent riots at Mistake-On-The-Thames were a conspiracy by habitual criminals. So that’s alright, then: just lock them all up all over again and everything will be okay………Well, until the next time.

    According to the history books, John Kennedy declared a War on Poverty fifty years ago. Before him, so did Roosevelt thirty years previous. So did Johnson after Kennedy was murdered. Then along came Daniel Patrick Moynihan and his talk of – wait for it – “benign neglect.” So that was yet another American war lost, like all the others.

    The truth is there never has been an American Dream, only manipulated propaganda to fill the country with cheap labour. This was never better demonstrated than through the American Civil War and events since. Why be surprised when the historical chickens come home to roost?

    Anglo Saxon capitalism, the YankBrit version, is a particularly nasty version of that ugly creed. Until it has evolved out there will be no change. The same things will be written in another fifty years if people cannot bring themselves to take charge of their own society.

  6. Anthony Martin says:

    You are not really telling us something new here. This situation isn’t just the US. It’s the whole of the Western world. It’s the result of predatory capitalism, corrupt governance and deliberate collusions between wealthy scum to look after their own.
    Britain is exactly the same. You wouldn’t know it though because, like the US, the media is controlled. The BBC in particular denies people knowing the reality, while it’s licence fee is forced on people like a propaganda dictatorship.
    While the wealthy scum in the US & UK continue to cause these situations, while the rich swan off to luxury hideouts, these festering lands of hate may well result in the new western ‘militants’ who have nothing to lose.
    40 year+ of predatory capitalism and the so called ‘free market’ ethos, is the rot that’s sinking the west.

  7. Y.S. says:

    Without housing benefits and tax credits London would be the same.

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