Poverty Is Violence

…And We May All Be Complicit

Picture+taken+by+photographer+Tuca+Vieira+in+Brazil+%282004%29.+This+contrasts+the+poverty+of+Parais%C3%B3polis+favela+%28left%29+with+its+wealthy+neighbor%2C+Morumbi+%28right%29.+

Picture taken by photographer Tuca Vieira in Brazil (2004). This contrasts the poverty of Paraisópolis favela (left) with its wealthy neighbor, Morumbi (right).

By Wyatt McElroy, Assistant Reporter

Just about a month ago, sitting on the bus heading to my prestigious Catholic High School, the vehicle stopped at an intersection. It being a cold winter day, I was cozy, burrowed up in my winter jacket, heaters blowing behind my feet, listening to some music on my brand new AirPods, streaming from my iPhone Xs Max. I gazed outside my window to see a couple of empty pizza boxes fastened against a tree. A pile of trash one human calls their home. Days later, on my way to track practice, I again looked out my window staring towards the same spot. I witnessed a man standing over the cardboard biting into what looked to be a sandwich. It was clear to me that he was still actively sleeping there. The next day there was a snowstorm that covered much of Connecticut in over a foot of snow. I can only assume that the man I saw just a day earlier had to endure the storm with a pizza box as his only cover. Yet, there are 59 empty properties, not built out of recycled cardboard, for every homeless person in the United States. A number that has increased 43% since 2010. Still, over half a million Americans may have to rummage through a dumpster, grab a few pizza boxes, trying to salvage some shelter, and maybe a spare slice. Many of these people have been dehumanized to the point where the rest of society subconsciously relegates them to a lesser position, a sub-human, not a person, but a homeless person. This is an accepted reality, but it simply does not have to be. Not only do we have more than enough supply to guarantee housing for every American (and the capacity to create/incentivize the creation of more where necessary), but housing first approaches to ending homelessness have been proven both effective and cost-efficient. Additionally, sheltering the homeless with their own house can help stabilize their mental health and increase openness to accept further treatment.

In the wealthiest nation in the world, more than 35 million people struggled with hunger in 2019, many of which have to rely on food banks and other charitable organizations rather than federal nutrition programs. Across the world, 9 million die of hunger annually, a number that could double amidst the current COVID-19 Pandemic. On top of this, 690 million people struggle with hunger day-to-day, not always having enough money to adequately feed themselves and their families. Now, you may be thinking that this is just an issue of overpopulation, a lack of resources, and something we must accept as an unfortunate reality. Yet, the fact is, we are able to produce enough food to feed 1.5 times the world’s population every year. Again, as it is with housing, the problem is not production capacity, but rather distribution.

To illustrate the overarching issues of poverty in the United States, I will now present the following statistics from povertyusa.org:

General:

“All those who make less than the Federal government’s official poverty threshold… which for a family of four is about $25,700 [include the following]. People working at minimum wage, even holding down multiple jobs. Seniors living on fixed incomes. Wage earners suddenly out of work. Millions of families everywhere from our cities to rural communities.”

“Poverty thresholds are determined by the US government, and vary according to the size of a family, and the ages of its members. In 2018, the poverty threshold—also known as the poverty line—for an individual was $12,784. For two people, the weighted average threshold was $16,247.”

“What’s worse, 5.3% of the population—or 17.3 million people—live in deep poverty, with incomes below 50% of their poverty thresholds.”

“And 29.9% of the population—or 93.6 million—live close to poverty, with incomes less than two times that of their poverty thresholds. To learn more about poverty thresholds and what it is like to live at the poverty line, take a look at the statistics.”

“In 2018, 38.1 million people lived in Poverty USA. That means the poverty rate for 2018 was 11.8%.”

Gender/Parental Issues

“…in 2018, 10.6% of men, and 12.9% of women lived in Poverty USA. Along the same lines, the poverty rate for married couples in 2018 was only 4.7% – but the poverty rate for single-parent families with no wife present was 12.7%, and for single-parent families with no husband present was 24.9%.”

Disabled:

“In 2018, the poverty rate for people living with a disability was 25.7%. That’s nearly 4 million people living with a disability—in poverty.”

Children:

“In 2018, 16.2% of all children (11.9 million kids) lived in Poverty USA—that’s almost 1 in every 6 children.”

“In 2015, the National Center on Family Homelessness analyzed state-level data and found that nationwide, 2.5 million children experience homelessness in a year.”

Seniors:

“Though the official census data gives seniors a 2018 poverty rate of only 9.7%, the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which accounts for expenses such as the rising costs of healthcare, raises the senior poverty rate to 14.1%.”

Ethnicity:

“According to 2018 US Census Data, the highest poverty rate by race is found among Native Americans (25.4%), with Blacks (20.8%) having the second highest poverty rate, and Hispanics (of any race) having the third highest poverty rate (17.6%). Whites had a poverty rate of 10.1%, while Asians had a poverty rate at 10.1%”

A bit over a month ago, Elon Musk’s net worth eclipsed that of Jeff Bezos making him the world’s wealthiest man. The two have flip-flopped between the first and second spot for the last couple of weeks, both of them nearing net worths of 200 billion dollars. Mainstream news outlets have published countless articles covering this clash. Meanwhile, 25,000 humans from across the globe starve to death every day. Around the world, billions experience unimaginable living conditions, with nearly 700 million below the World Bank poverty line of $1.90 per day. If that’s not enough, almost half the world (~4 billion people) garner a household income below $2.50 a day. Now, knowing what you do about housing and food, do you really think these people are in this position due to a lack of resources or productive capacity?

Using the World Health Organization’s definition of violence, “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation,” it is beyond debate that poverty is violence. Those in power today, with the ability to end homelessness, hunger, and poverty, simply do not care enough to do so. I understand ending poverty worldwide is a daunting and complicated task that even with the correct intent would not happen overnight, but there is no excuse for homelessness, starvation, and poverty in the wealthiest nation on earth. The motivation to remain in and expand power from both elected officials and the wealthy prevents any honest attempt to end poverty. This takes form in the shape of corporate lobbying and tax cuts that benefit the rich with the false promise that even an ounce of this wealth will somehow trickle down to the desperately poor along with various forms of deregulation that have resulted in weaker worker rights and organization among other issues. As income inequality climbs in the United States, wealth further concentrates, making it even easier for those with the wealth to leverage their economic power into political power and vice-versa. Despite this being an easily observable problem, we are still too caught up in relatively insignificant social and political discourse to address the issue. Perhaps the AirPods that blasted sound waves into my ears that morning, acting as an outlet from reality, couldn’t be produced without exploiting the global poor, and so we must keep them around to protect profit margins for the producer and price-point for the luxury consumer. For whatever reason one may have been ignorant of the concerns of national and global poverty in the past, it is not acceptable to stand idle as these issues exacerbate and stack on top of each other after becoming aware of them, as that would be deliberate negligence. I am not advocating for some mass boycott, but rather systemic change. Ultimately, the blame rests not only on our representatives but the people who voted for them. All people have inherent power in a Democracy. The conscious misuse of this power in support of a politician who refuses to address the issues of poverty fits the definition of violence. The use of power by a politician or government to oppress the poor also fits this definition. But again, we largely ignore these issues or undersell the magnitude of them because state violence has been institutionalized to the point where we have accepted it, and by accepting it, we perpetuate it.

Just last a few nights ago, leaving my friend’s family’s restaurant, a homeless man started shouting at us from a distance. All I could make out was that he wanted to talk and “wasn’t going to hurt us.” Yet, still, we ran into my friend’s truck and locked the doors. The man approached the window and continued to talk. He had his hands buried into sweatshirt pockets. We didn’t know if we should trust him. He kept saying he had no place to go and didn’t want to freeze to death. He just wanted money for a motel, he pleaded, saying he was willing to get on his knees and beg if that’s what it took. Even after all of this, we contemplated driving off and leaving the man behind, empty-handed. I mean, why risk our safety for this random stranger? Why risk ruining our great evening after dining for free in my friend’s beautiful Italian restaurant? Why even risk our comfort by opening our window and letting in the cold air into the truck’s heated interior? While trying to decide what to do, someone in the distance yelled at the man, telling him to scram. He seemed startled and walked away quickly. We drove off but circled back around to find him again and ended up rolling down the window enough to give him some cash and a water bottle. He simply thanked us, gave me a fist bump, then walked away. Afterward, the only regret we had was not finding a way to get the man more resources. Throughout our lives, we too often choose security and comfort over helping others. We choose the status-quo because we’re scared of change, or maybe do not see the necessity for it. We feel comfortable and secure with what we have, not considering the conditions of the have-nots. Rather than uniting to hold our system accountable, we demonize those born into poor socio-economic conditions that drive them to commit crime and fall into homelessness and starvation. We are too distracted by the side effects of the institutional violence that is poverty to focus and leverage our power to end it.

 

 

Note: This article was not meant to dissect current legislation or propose new legislation. That may come in a later, much longer article.

Sources:

“Homelessness & Empty Homes: Trends Since 2010.” Self., www.self.inc/info/empty-homes/.

Yglesias, Matthew. “Giving Housing to the Homeless Is Cheaper than Leaving Them on the Streets.” Vox, Vox, 20 Feb. 2019,

www.vox.com/platform/amp/2014/5/30/5764096/homeless-shelter-housing-help-solutions.

“Hunger in America Is Growing.” Feeding America, www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america.

Mai, H.J. “U.N. Warns Number Of People Starving To Death Could Double Amid Pandemic.” NPR, NPR, 5 May 2020, www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/05/05/850470436/u-n-warns-number-of-people-starving-to-death-could-double-amid-pandemic.

“World Hunger: Key Facts and Statistics 2021.” Action Against Hunger, 12 Jan. 2021, www.actionagainsthunger.org/world-hunger-facts-statistics.

“The Heartbreaking Truth About Poverty Around the World and How You Can Help.” Compassion International, www.compassion.com/poverty/poverty-around-the-world.htm.

“The Population of Poverty USA.” Poverty Facts, www.povertyusa.org/facts.

“Inequality … in a Photograph.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 29 Nov. 2017, www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/nov/29/sao-paulo-injustice-tuca-vieira-inequality-photograph-paraisopolis.

Housing and shelter. (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://www.samhsa.gov/homelessness-programs-resources/hpr-resources/housing-shelter