America is supposed to be the richest nation in the history of the world and there is little reason to doubt that there is enormous wealth in this country. Indeed, if a person stays sequestered in middle-class neighborhoods and frequents the local mall, there is ample evidence to suggest that all Americans are living the American dream and wallowing in opulence with new cars, big homes, and well-adjusted children. However, the truth for an increasing number of Americans who once enjoyed a comfortable middle-class existence is that it is becoming difficult to make it from paycheck to paycheck and for millions of Americans, it is getting difficult to feed their children. It is sad that for many Americans, it took watching their children go to bed hungry before they realized Republicans have no interest in helping 99% of the people and that their plan for the future entails more entitlements for the wealthy.
One indicator of the economic hardships American families are facing is the increase in children participating in the Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Recently, the New York Times analyzed data from the NSLP that provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. For an alarming number of children, the federally assisted meal program is the only decent meal they eat.
The number of school children receiving subsidized lunches rose to 21 million last school year; a 17% increase according to an analysis by The New York Times of Department of Agriculture data. In eleven states, including Florida, Nevada, New Jersey and Tennessee, there was a four-year increase of 25% or more. There is expected incremental growth in the decades-old program, but the economic downturn caused by Republican policies of unfunded wars, tax cuts for the wealthy, and deregulation of financial markets that retarded job creation and economic growth has sent millions to the brink of poverty and dependent on the NSLP to feed their hungry children.
Last week, I interviewed a staunchly Republican family to gauge their perception of the Occupy movement. It was shocking to learn that this family was barely surviving and if not for the school lunch program, their children go to bed hungry. This family was once the epitome of the American middle class but corporate downsizing, outsourcing of jobs, and retirement account losses in the market crash of 2007-2008 sent them into poverty. Prior to 2009, every member of the family held good, living-wage jobs that disappeared, and to make ends meet, they sold their homes and cars and moved into a small two-bedroom home. The parents, three adult children, and 5 grandchildren struggle to make ends meet from day to day and despite their sacrifices, there appears to be little hope.
The adults knew about the Occupy movement and instead of reviling the protestors, they praised them for standing up for the rest of the country. These people were life-long GOP supporters and could not comprehend why Republicans were still fighting to give the wealthy more benefits than the poor and middle class. It was heart-rending to see the shame of these once-proud Republicans who still voted for Republicans in 2010 in hopes they would fulfill their promise of creating jobs. Their shame was not limited to voters’ remorse.
The adults were ashamed they could not provide for their children and that despite cutting out cable television, Internet access, unnecessary driving, and entertainment, they struggled to pay rent and buy groceries. Two of the adult children related that their biggest fear was how to feed their children on weekends and during school breaks. They said that on weekends, if not for food banks and local charities, their children were lucky to get one meal per day and expressed abject humiliation at having to rely on food stamps to supplement their dietary needs. Their home was Spartan and when I asked how they were able to afford their rent, they said they had sold everything they owned and were seriously concerned about the future. The only income is from a nursing job and they did not understand how it was possible the nurse paid a higher tax rate than the wealthy and why did Republicans want to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid when they had paid into those programs their entire working lives. They hoped that injustice is what the Occupy movement is trying to remedy, and supported President Obama’s job creation plans the Republicans opposed because of a tax increase on the wealthy. Each adult swore they would never vote for a Republican again and would work tirelessly to atone for ever voting for any GOP candidate by voting for Democrats.
This story was not unique to one family and they told me the economy had wreaked havoc on all of their friends and acquaintances and that everyone knew it was Republicans who were responsible for the economic mess. They also knew Republicans had a solution to help stimulate the economy and create jobs, but since deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy had not worked for ten years, they thought it was curious they kept pushing the same solution.
It is one thing to read statistics about poverty, but to see the sadness and desperation in once-proud Americans’ eyes at the prospect of never achieving the so-called American dream was devastating. Republicans see the results of their policies in their home districts and instead of working to create jobs and help the economy, they are proposing more tax cuts and deregulation to protect the rich. The Occupy movement is having impact on Republicans, but instead of listening to the American people (the 99%) they are devising propaganda campaigns to avoid mentioning income disparity, capitalism, taxing the rich, and the middle class because the people know the GOP supports the 1% over the rest of the country.
Republicans have contempt for the 99% of Americans who are not rich, and they intend to forge ahead with tax cuts and deregulation to help the wealthy elite. One might understand if Republicans were only punishing adults with their policies, but there is no excuse for millions of American children going hungry because the GOP will not increase taxes on the wealthy to pay for jobs and aid programs. If nothing else, Republicans have shown themselves to be heartless plutocrats and it begs the question; do they enjoy knowing their policies increased child hunger and poverty numbers? Based on their continued entitlements for the rich and refusal to create jobs, they must rejoice every time a child goes to bed hungry. One former middle-class American who was interviewed thought that maybe death by starvation is the Republican’s way of reducing child poverty. Unfortunately, their assumption appears to be true.