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Dorian de Wind

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America: A Country of Have-Starbucks' and Have-Nots?

Posted: 12/06/2012 6:05 pm

I like Starbucks coffee. Every once in a while, I even splurge a couple of dollars to enjoy a "Grande" (I have not graduated to a "Venti" yet) Starbucks cup of coffee. But I do not think that I will ever feel café riche enough to spend $7 for their new, limited brew, 16-ounce cup of coffee.

I also believe that Starbucks is a fine, socially and environmentally responsible company. The fact that Starbucks plans to open at least 1,500 new cafes in the U.S. alone over the next five years reflects well on the company's business model, strength, success and consumer loyalty and popularity.

Therefore, the following should not be taken as a criticism of that company, but more as a personal, sad reflection on the times we live in.

What brought Starbucks' popularity, success and profitability literally into my field of vision, were two articles -- one right above the other -- on the front page of Wednesday's USA TODAY. The articles, in my opinion, graphically illustrate the deep and tragic economic (some may call it moral) dichotomy and divide that presently exist in our country.

The first article, "For the poor, 'recovery' is a mirage," describes the explosive rise in poverty that has hit parts of our country, in this particular case, Miami County in Ohio.

According to Marisol Bello's excellent report, the rise in poverty "is evident in the mass of people who crowd the waiting room of the free health clinic every Thursday night -- so many that the volunteer staff turns away about half of them" and is marked by "the bare shelves of the food pantry at Richards Chapel United Methodist Church, a one-story sanctuary where dozens of laid-off factory workers, retirees and young parents with children fill the dining hall daily for a free lunch."

It is so bad that Nancy Scott, a former stay-at-home mom working a temporary minimum-wage job, had to choose between exhausting her paycheck on rent and utilities and living in her 1990 pickup. "She chose the truck."

In a "tour" of her rusted truck that Scott gives to Marisol Bello, the USA reporter, Bello sees "the plastic bins where [Scott] keeps toiletries, food, knickknacks and batteries for her camping lights. Stacks of clothes and linens crowd another corner." Bello observes, "The truck has a camper top that leaks when it rains, so the sleeping bag rests on raised wooden slats to stay dry" and she adds that this will be Scott's second winter in the truck.

Of course, Nancy Scott is not the only one suffering in Miami County, Ohio. Bello reports:

With a population of 103,000, Miami County has seen a particularly sharp increase in poverty among children and the unemployed. The number of poor children in the county increased from 1,900 in 2008 to 6,000 in 2011, according to the Census, which estimates a quarter of the county's children live in poverty. The number of unemployed who were poor increased from 711 in 2008 to 2,200 in 2011.

Bello points out that, while our representatives procrastinate in Washington about the "fiscal cliff" and while Americans do their holiday shopping, thousands of people in Miami County are managing on little or no income.

She notes how Miami County lost 2,234 jobs since 2008 and how 21 percent of children in Miami County live in poverty. But, hey, there is a silver lining here: The growth in child poverty in Miami County is not any worse than the national trend.

Finally, Bello tells us that the minimum wage in Ohio is $7.70 an hour.

That would be just enough to pay for one of those new, fancy, "limited brew" cups of coffee.

And this brings me to the second story in USA TODAY -- the one titled, "A calling card for the café rich."

This story tells us how a few of the more fortunate Americans -- "the 1 percent," according to cultural anthropologist Robbie Blinkoff -- will have the opportunity to vie for a $450, specially etched, Starbucks steel card that "comes with gold level Starbucks card membership benefits, including gifts and freebie refills on brewed coffee and tea."

This card will be so upper-end exclusive, so classy that only 5,000 of them will be "minted" and they will only be available at a luxury goods website.

Again, nothing against Starbucks and nothing against those few lucky people who will be able to flaunt their super-exclusive card and relish the delicious thought when they are waiting in line at Starbucks that "the next person in line won't have it."

It is all well and good, but when I read the story of the "café riche" immediately after the story of a struggling Nancy Scott and of the abject poverty in Miami County, Ohio, it just left a bitter taste in my mouth -- and it wasn't Caffè Misto.

Just imagine, if the $2.25 million in cold cash that these cold steel cards will reap for Starbucks would go, instead, to help the cold and hungry in Miami County.

Just imagine, if in a future December, as we approach the holiest time of the year, instead of reading "For the poor, 'recovery' is a mirage," we would read, "For the poor, 'recovery' is a miracle."

I sincerely believe that in the United States of America, where "you can have it all," where you and I can chose between a delicious Caffè Vanilla Frappuccino and an equally delicious and pricy Caramel Brulée Frappuccino, Nancy Scott in Troy, Ohio, -- or any American -- should not have to choose between food and shelter, between food and medicine.

But that's just li'l ole me, musing at Christmas time...

 
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