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Recession's Lingering Effect: Big Rise In New Poor

By Susan Campbell

January 15, 2012

You can learn a lot on a Florida beach especially when a red tide blooms miles offshore.

The algae dots the beach with dead sheepshead, mullet, and other fish species I can't name. One pauses to contemplate their souls, and then attention goes to the winged, chattering diners ecstatic in the bounty as they hollow out the carcasses.

A tourist official insists in a local paper that it's not a red tide, but is instead just one of those things where fish up and die together, like they took a pact or something. I added that last part, because it makes about as much sense as an official insisting nature isn't taking its course in the Sunshine State.

Reality can be ugly and we sugarcoat it at our peril. Republicans in South Carolina are eyeing their crop of presidential candidates including a front-runner who insists a remark he made about liking to fire people was taken out of context - while Indiana University releases a disquieting study.

The Great Recession will have lifelong effects on families, the study says, probably more than we've figured on. This meltdown has created the greatest number of long-term unemployed people since 1948, the study said, and big growth among the New Poor comes from working-age adults, especially those between the ages of 18 to 34.

About that candidate: He's taken some heat for his actions as a successful businessman, and in one radio interview a supporter bemoaned that capitalism has winners and losers and if you're a loser, well, too bad. She said it in the kindest tone imaginable. So this is capitalism? People get pushed away from the table, and it's just too bad?

Using Census Bureau figures, the Indiana study says Connecticut ranks among the 10 states for the largest pecentage-point increase in poverty. Things are tough in the land of plenty, where our substantial crop of zillionaires down in Fairfield County continually skew the reality of the Nutmeg State at least on paper. In reality, a (false) rumor of free food stamps after Hurricane Irene drew thousands to stand in line at offices around the state. Homeless shelters are full, and we have towns where the poverty level is so high, all children get free school meals.

The Indiana study also explored what public expenditures get the most scrutiny during challenging times. If SNAP (formerly food stamps) and unemployment benefits aren't cut outright, increased rules seek to shrink the portal of entry. For example, last year, legislators in three dozen states discussed requiring public assistance recipients and applicants to submit to drug tests. My own home state of Missouri took the plunge and the jury's still out as to whether the program is anything but a $2.3 million a year experiment, though in a similar program in Indiana, 98 percent of applicants passed their drug test.

I wonder what the figure would be if we applied those restrictions to people receiving welfare on the other end of the economic scale. To my knowledge, no such tests faced the officials of banks and lending organizations when they were the grateful recipients of a public bail-out. Shouldn't any entity that receives federal funds submit a urine sample? That would, of course, include corporations, being "people" who are accorded free speech rights.

Meanwhile, a Pew Research Center poll says 66 percent of Americans believe there is a strong-to-very-strong conflict between the rich and the poor. That's precisely what the Occupy movement has been saying, and lest you think the movement died when the local constables including Hartford's - shut down tent cities, activists have regrouped, and they're throwing their energies into building strong coalitions with already-existing local social justice organizatons. Next month, an Ocupy Hartford member will start a People's University lecture series. Today, on the birthday of one of our most eloquent and committed prophets, it's good to remind ourselves: The reality is this is far from over.

Courant staff writer and columnist Susan Campbell can be reached at scampbell@courant.com

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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