The official U.S. poverty rate is now 15 percent which amounts to 44 million people or one out of seven. This is the highest number of people in poverty on record. Despite claims that the recession in the United States has been over now for 16 months, the Census Bureau’s findings show that the entire working class has been deeply impacted by the loss of jobs, pensions, health care and housing. Among the most oppressed segments of the U.S. population, women and the internally colonized people of color, the situation is far worse.
The Wall Street Journal reports, “The longest recession of the post World War II period now has an end date.” It continues, “The National Bureau of Economic Research announced Monday that the downturn started in December 2007 was longer than the 1973-1975 and 1981-1982 recessions.” (Sept. 20)
The NBER did not say that the economy had improved but only that the recession had ended. NBER stated that it was impossible for there to be “a double-dip recession and that any downturn in the U.S. would be another recession and not the one that they said had already passed out of existence.”
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development predicted that the U.S. economy would grow only 2.6 percent and not the 3.2 percent rate that had been earlier announced. It reported that the current crisis could result in long-term structural damage to the economy.
Impact on women and African Americans
These forecasts and summations based on the most current economic data illustrate that the U.S. capitalist system is not out of the recession as far as working people are concerned. Even though large banks and corporations are reporting higher profits, these optimistic figures do not translate into job creation or social benefits for workers, particularly those within the oppressed nations.
The data show that many more women have been thrust into poverty over the last several years, which only reinforces existing patterns of oppression, exploitation and inequality. The National Women’s Law Center reported on Sept. 16 that “the rate of poverty for women rose 13.9 percent last year, the highest rate in 15 years.” (www.nwlc.org)
NWLC noted, “The data show that over 16.4 million women were living in poverty in 2009, including nearly 7 million women in extreme poverty, which means that their incomes were below half of the federal poverty line. Poverty among men also rose from 9.6 percent in 2008 to 10.5 percent in 2009, but these rates remained substantially lower than poverty rates among women.” Also noted was that the traditional wage differential between men and women remained unchanged from 2008 to 2009.
Nonetheless, when the poverty rates among women within the oppressed nations in the U.S. are taken into consideration, they reveal that historical discrimination based on race and gender is still evident in the second decade of this century. Although women and peoples of color have made tremendous strides in fighting and winning concessions related to civil rights and employment opportunities, the social imperatives of U.S. capitalism continue to be based on the superexploitation of the most oppressed workers.
The NWLC states, “Poverty rates were substantially higher for women of color, approaching one in four among African-American women (24.6 percent compared to 23.3 percent in 2008). Hispanic women experienced a similar increase from 22.3 percent in 2008 to 23.8 percent last year.” Nearly four in ten single mothers (38.5 percent) were living in poverty in 2009, an increase from 37.2 percent in 2008. In 2009, 15.4 million children lived in poverty, representing an increase of 1.4 million in one year.
A 29 year-old, unemployed African-American woman was driven to an extreme act of tragic desperation when she smothered her two-year-old and 18 month-old children to death in Orangeburg, S.C. Aug. 17. Shaquan Duley has been charged with two counts of first degree murder and could face the death penalty. Poverty and unemployment as well as racism should be put on trial, not its victims like Shaquan Duley.
Women from 15 to 44 experienced widespread job losses that resulted in the termination of health care benefits. The Guttmacher Institute analyzed the census data related to private insurance and found that 2.3 million women within this age group lost their coverage between 2008 and 2009, forcing many onto the Medicaid roles but increasing those without health insurance by 1.3 million. (www.guttmacher.org, Sept. 17)
The Women’s Health News Digest states that the decrease in coverage affected family planning support services. Their publication states, “We also found that publicly funded planning providers were struggling to meet a growing need for subsidized contraceptive care, even as they had to make do with fewer resources.” (HealthNewsDigest.com, Sept. 17)
For African-American workers, who have the highest unemployment statistics in the U.S., the rate of poverty is twice as high as the general figures for the overall population. The Washington Informer reported, “In 2009, the poverty rate for African Americans reached 25.8 percent.” (Sept. 18)
What these figures indicate is that any serious effort to address the economic crisis in the U.S. must pay special attention to the plight of African Americans, Latinos/as and women. The Obama administration’s refusal to acknowledge the disparate impact of the economic crisis on women and the oppressed nations dooms his existing policies to failure.
The recently released census data also have serious implications for organizing around the worsening plight of working people and the oppressed. If the special oppressions of women and people of color are not taken into consideration, it will not be possible to build a fighting movement that can effectively take on the capitalist system.
Oppression and exploitation based on race and gender must be uprooted in order to build a society devoid of institutional discrimination. True equality among working people can only be achieved by destroying all forms of inequality based on gender and nationality.
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