While the best-developed country in the world, the United States confronts
a serious problem of polarization between the rich and the poor. Never
has a fundamental change been possible in conditions of the poor, who
constitute the forgotten "third world" within this superpower.
The gap between high-income and low-income families in terms of the wealth
owned by either group has further widened over the past two decades. In
1979, the average income of the families with the highest incomes, who
account for 5 percent of the total in the United States, was about ten
times as great as that of the families with the lowest incomes, who account
for 20 percent of the total. By 1999, the figure had grown to 19 times.
According to a New York Times analysis of a US Census Bureau survey in
August 2001, the economic boom the United States experienced in the 1990s
failed to make the American middle class richer than in the previous decade.
The true fact is that the poor became even poorer and the rich, even wealthier.
For most of those in between the two opposite groups, life was worse at
the end of the 1990s than at the beginning of the decade. Right now, the
richest 1 percent of the Americans own 40 percent of the national wealth.
In contrast, the share is a mere 16 percent for 80 percent of the American
population. The richest 20 percent of the families in Washington D. C.
are 24 times as rich as the poorest 20 percent, up from 18 times a decade
Problems facing the poor, hungry and homeless have become increasingly
conspicuous. According to a 2002 report of the American Food Research
and Action Center on its website, 10 percent of the American families,
in other words 19 million adults and 12 million children, suffered from
food insecurity in 1999. In a national survey of emergency feeding program
(Hunger in America 2001), America's Second Harvest emergency food providers
served 23 million people in the year, 9 percent more than in 1997. The
figure included nine million children. Nearly two-thirds of the adult
emergency food recipients were women, and more than one in five were elderly.
In its annual report published in December 2001, the United States Conference
of Mayors reported a sharp increase in the number of the hungry and homeless
in major cities. In the 27 cities covered by a USCM survey, the number
of people asking for emergency food increased by an average of 23 percent,
and the increase averaged 13 percent for those asking for emergency housing
relief. Demand for emergency food supplies grew in 93 percent of the cities
covered by the survey. Of those who asked for emergency food, many --
19 percent more than in the previous year -- had children to support.
Of the adults who asked for emergency relief, 37 percent were employed.
Hunger in these cities was attributed to low incomes, unemployment, high
housing rent, economic recession, welfare reforms, high medical bills
and mental disorders. According to a report issued by the US Department
of Labor on November 29, 2001, 4.02 million Americans -- the highest number
in 19 years -- were living on relief. The National Alliance to End Homelessness
has reported that 750,000 Americans are in a permanent state of homelessness,
and that up to two million have had experiences of having no shelter for
themselves. People without a roof over themselves have to spend the night
in places like street corners, abandoned cars, refuges and parks, where
their personal safety cannot be guaranteed.
Lives of the rich seem more valued than lives of the poor. According to
la Liberation on January 9, 2002, the federal fund set up by the American
government would compensate victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks
according to their ages, salaries and the number of people in their families,
plus a sum in compensation for the mental trauma the family members suffered.
This way of fixing the compensations produced shocking results. If a housewife
was killed, her husband and two children would be entitled to 500, 000
US dollars in compensation from the fund. If the victim happened to be
a Wall Street broker, the compensation would be as much as 4.3 million
US dollars for his widow and two children. Families of many victims protested
against this inequality, compelling the American government to commit
itself to revising the method.