Let Us Eat Cake: What the New Poverty Data Does and Doesn't Tell Us About Cake
Poverty fell in 2013 U.S. Census data shows. It inched down from 15 percent in 2012 to 14.5 percent in 2013, but still higher than when the Recession officially ended in 2009.
So not yet time to eat cake.
...Or is it?
Cake and Food Assistance
If many state governors and GOP federal legislators had their druthers, we'd prohibit poor moms from buying cake for their children using food stamps. Cake and ice cream for birthday parties, some politicians apparently hope, will be only for the non-poor in America. Indeed, with the cruel cuts to the food assistance program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) last year and aspirations for eliminating its entitlement status, it seems some GOP lawmakers feel that any food at all for poor people should be considered a privilege. This, despite the fact that SNAP lifted 3.7 million people out of poverty in 2013 and could have assisted many many more.
Cake and Unemployment Insurance
Similarly, Unemployment Insurance proved a critical safety net catching 1.2 million people before they fell below the poverty line. But this number is smaller than previous years due to House leaders allowing the benefit to expire and preventing all attempts to restore it. With a sluggish job market, high unemployment and a minimum wage which doesn't provide a full-time worker with sufficient housing and nutrition needs in any state in the country, the elimination of this crucial safety net assistance is unjustified and unwise.
Poverty and deep poverty persist in this wealthy nation. Barriers to health care, quality child care, good paying jobs, adequate safety net programs, quality education, safe housing and adequate nutrition persist and austerity approaches increase these.
Cake and Corporate Greed
The good news is that alternatives to austerity for the poor abound. If we leveled down the gobs of frosting on the triple decker layer cakes we regularly serve up to tax-evading corporations, gambling Wall Street wolves and bloated CEO wallets, there would be enough cake to go around. Cut corporate subsidies, close off-shore tax havens, tax Wall Street fairly, create green good paying jobs and institute universal healthcare are examples of what we can do.
Cake While Incarcerated and Undocumented
Finally, even if we do all of that and every belly has nutritious food and some occasional birthday cake, 2.4 million of mostly low-income people won't be able to come to the table because they are incarcerated. An additional 11 million undocumented immigrants have no seat at the table at all.
Disproportionately poor and of minority ethnic and racial backgrounds, incarcerated and undocumented people in our country survive- or not- below the radar screen. Most of the those living behind bars in federal prisons are imprisoned for non-violent offenses. Exploding prison populations are squeezing state and municipal budgets. These skyrocketing costs are illogically being paid for by swelling the numbers of people fined and jailed for nothing more than being unable to pay a parking ticket, private probation or court costs. It's a vicious cycle of cost and incarceration which serves only to create a resurgence of Debtors Prisons in the U.S. while doing nothing to curb costs.
Further, if the currently undocumented workers in the U.S. were to be granted legal right to work, studies estimate they would add over $2 billion annually to state and local tax contributions on top of the current $10.5 billion they already contribute.
So add immigration reform and criminal justice reform a commonsense approach to taxes, subsidizes, wages and budget and guess what?
We all get cake.