Missing in Action: The Poor in America

By Beverly Gologorsky the author of the just-published novel Every Body Has a Story (Dispatch/Haymarket Books), as well as the novels The Things We Do To Make It Home (a New York Times notable book), and Stop Here (an Indie Next pick). Her work has appeared in anthologies, magazines, and newspapers, including the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Originally published at TomDispatch

Imagine this: every year during the Great Recession of 2007-2009 there were nearly four million home foreclosures. In that period, with job losses mounting, nearly 15% of American households were categorized as “food insecure.” To many of those who weren’t foreclosed upon, who didn’t lose their jobs, who weren’t “food insecure,” to the pundits writing about that disaster and the politicians dealing with it, these were undoubtedly distant events. But not to me. For me, it was all up close and personal.

No, I wasn’t foreclosed upon. But my past never leaves me and so, in those years, the questions kept piling up. What, I wondered daily, was happening to all those people? Where were they going? What would they do? Could families really stay together in the midst of so much loss?

I was haunted by such questions and others like them in the same way that I remain haunted by my own working-class childhood, my deep experience of poverty, of want, of worry. I wondered: How were working class families surviving the never-ending disasters in what was quickly becoming a new gilded age in which poverty is again on the rise?

As a writer and novelist, I found myself returning to the childhood and adolescence I had left behind in my South Bronx neighborhood in New York City. I thought about those who, like me once upon a time, had barely made it out of the difficulties of their daily lives only to find themselves once again squeezed back into a world of poverty by the Great Recession. How that felt and how they felt raised lingering questions that would become the heart and soul of my new novel, Every Body Has a Story. The book is finished, printed, and in stores and the Great Recession officially over, or so it’s said, but tell that to the increasing numbers of poor families scrabbling to hang on in a world that refuses to see or hear them.

What Does Poverty Feel Like to a Child?

President Trump, a man who never knew a moment of need in his life, and the politicians in his thrall regularly use the term “working class” to mean only those who are white, only those who, they believe, will support their acts. Let me be clear: the working class consists of people who are multi-racial and multi-ethnic, immigrant and native born. If you grew up where I did, you would know the truth of that fact.

And here’s a question that’s never asked: What does poverty actually feel like, especially to a child? I can attest to the fact that it sinks deep into your bones, into the very sinews of your life and never leaves you. Poverty is more than the numbers that prove it, not at all the way the pundits who write about it describe it. And for those Americans who are just one paycheck, one sick child, one broken-down car away from falling into its abyss, poverty lasts forever.

I was a serious child in an impoverished home, in a poor, working-class, diverse neighborhood in a society that valued women less than it did men. I was born to an immigrant father who worked in a leather factory and a mother who took care of children, her own and those of others. I was brought up in the South Bronx, the third of the four children who survived the six born to my mother. With the arrival of each new child, something of material and emotional value was subtracted from the other children’s wellbeing in order to support the new arrival.

Dreams were seen as a waste of the mental energy needed to seek out and acquire the basics: food, rent, clothing, whatever was essential to get through a day, a week, or at most a month. To plan long range would be as useless as dreaming and could only court disappointment. The result of such suppression was anger, depression, and dissatisfaction, which is just to start down an endless list.

Whenever I read about crime rates and addiction levels, including the spread of the opioid epidemic in poor urban or rural areas, I know it’s the result of anger, depression, and dissatisfaction, of unmet needs, big and small, that breed frustration and, perhaps most importantly, despair.

How could I forget our family apartment in the basement of an old six-story building? Through its windows I could daily watch the feet of people passing by on the street outside. In the summers, that apartment was too hot; in the winters, too cold. My mother scoured it regularly, but there was no way to keep out the rodents that competed for ownership in the night. To deal with this infestation, and fearing ever being alone in the apartment, she brought home an alley cat. However, that cat made my asthma worse. It was my mother’s savior and my enemy.

Because the clinic where I received my medications and injections was free, we had to accept home visits from a social worker sent to investigate the “environment” in which I lived. Ahead of her arrival, my brother would remove the cat from the apartment for the duration of the visit. My siblings and I colluded in this ploy in order to keep the “outsider” from telling us how to live our lives — and to protect me from the possibility of being removed from my home.

Passing a Life Sentence on the Poor

In that world of poverty, each event, each change resonated through our lives in ways too grim to recall. And nothing that happened in the world of adults was kept hidden from the children. Nothing could be. When, for instance, my father was laid off and could no longer support his family, each of us was affected. My siblings and I worried about our parents in ways that, in middle or upper class families, parents are supposed to worry about their kids.

My older brother, then 18 or 19, who might have gone to community college ended up in the Army instead, after which, without any special training, his work-life consisted of one dead-end job after another. My eldest sister, saddened by our brother’s lost chance, considered the possibility of college, always knowing how improbable getting there would be. For the youngest of us, my sister and I, the key thing was to get jobs as soon as we could. And we did. I wasn’t quite 13 when I lied myself into a job at a juice store under the Third Avenue El in the Bronx.

Poverty meant buying yesterday’s — or even sometimes last week’s — bread. In such a world, you shopped by the piece, not the pound. Even time is a different commodity in the world of the poor. Joblessness creates unbearable amounts of time to kill, while working three jobs just to get by leaves no time even for sleep. The free time needed to train for, prepare for, or develop a career, or even to relax and develop a life, isn’t readily available with a family to . Where there are few or no options for mobility — and in these years of the new Gilded Age, cross-class mobility has, in fact, been on the decline — escape fantasies are a necessity of daily life. How else to get through the drudgery of it all?

In such a world, so lacking in the possibility of either movement or escape, drugs tend to play a big role in the lives of the young and the middle-aged. Recently, doctors have received much of the blame for providing too many opioid prescriptions too easily, while poverty is hardly blamed at all. One of the cruelest results of poverty is that people often fault themselves for their predicaments instead of a system that devalues their worth.

There was a curse, which was also a kind of wish, repeated in the hallways of my neighborhood’s rundown buildings. It went something like this: May the landlord stay healthy and have to live in this building for the rest of his life! Behind such a wish is the deep knowledge that the people most responsible for one’s everyday misery have never had to scrabble for their livings and don’t have a clue what poverty feels like. On television or at the movies, crises are often depicted as drawing people closer. In the world of the poor, however, it’s often the very opposite: poverty and unemployment break up homes, tear families apart, send some into substance abuse and others to one miserable job after another.

Need in America Today

And yet… and yet… what’s most troubling is not what’s changed but what hasn’t, which includes what poverty feels like in the body, the psyche, and the soul. In the body, it mostly results in the development of chronic or untreated ailments in a world in which nutrition is poor and, even if available, unbalanced. Asthma is one example that can be found now, as then, in nearly every family living in poor rural areas and inner cities such as the one in which I grew up.

In the psyche, poverty begets fear, anxiety, tension, and worry, constant worry. In the soul, poverty, which feels like the loss of you know not what, is always there like a cold fist to remind you that tomorrow will be the same as today. Such effects are not outgrown like a child’s dress but linger for a lifetime in a country where the severest kinds of poverty are again on the rise (and was just scathingly denounced by the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights), where each tax bill, each favor to the 1%, passes a kind of life sentence on the poor. And that is the definition of hopelessness.

Americans who barely made it through the recent recession now find themselves in conditions (in supposed good times) that seem to be worsening. In poor neighborhoods and rural areas, even when people listen to the pundits of cable TV chatter on about economic inequality, the words bleed together, because without the means to make real change, the present is forever. At best, such discussions feel like a teardrop in an ocean of words. Among professionals, pundits, and academics barely hidden contempt for those defined as lower or working class often tinges such discussions.

If media talk shows were ever to invite the real experts on, those who actually live in neighborhoods of need, so they could tell us what their daily lives are actually like, perhaps impoverishment would be understood more concretely and provoke action. It’s often said that poverty’s always been with us and so is here to stay. However, there have been better safety nets in the relatively recent American past. President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s, though failing in many ways, still succeeded in lifting people out of impoverished lives. Union jobs paid fairly decent wages before they began to be undermined during the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Better wages and union jobs aided people in finding better places to live.

During the past few decades, however, with huge sums being poured into this country’s never-ending wars, unions weakening or collapsing, wages being pushed down, and workers losing jobs, then homes, so much of that safety net is gone. If Donald Trump and his crew of millionaires and billionaires continue with their evisceration of the rest of the safety net, then food stamps, welfare aid directed at children’s health, and women’s reproductive rights, among other things, will disappear as well. Add to that the utter disregard the Trump administration has shown for people of color and its special mean-spiritedness toward immigrants, whether Mexican or Muslim — and for growing numbers of non-millionaires and non-billionaires the future is already starting to look like the worst, not the best, of times.

It seems that those who foster ideologies that deny decent lives to millions believe that people will take it forever. History, however, suggests another possibility and in it perhaps lies some consolation. Namely, that when misery reaches its nadir, it seeks change. Enough is enough was the implicit cry that helped form unions, spur the civil rights movement, launch the migrant grape boycotts, and inspire the drive for women’s liberation.

In the meantime, the poor remain missing in action in our American world, but not in my mind. Not in me.

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  1. Cripes

    Sing it, sister.

    My Amsterdam Avenue of the 1960s was a notch or two above but not very far from your South Bronx. Way more West Side Story then Friends.

    If a society can be judged by how it treats its prisoners then what do we say to the way this country treats its children and the children of the poor?

    I just can’t understand the lack of solidarity, the absence of any historical memory of what it means.

    The 1% exist in a web of Mutual Aid where you don’t belong. Time we made our own.

    1. Gina

      Well written article, the truth for sure. Unfortunately bad she added the political commentary about the current administration at the end making it look like she was blaming the problem on someone to target instead of asking why nothing has been done to solve that which has been plaguing us since the founding of the country.

  2. kimyo

    if you want to blame someone for impoverishing americans, isn’t bill clinton the biggest offender? (revoking glass steagall). he put the banks in the driver’s seat.

    trump deserves plenty of criticism, but tagging him for the current state of affairs isn’t reasonable.

    1. Isotope_C14

      It is far more complicated than that.

      Capitalism itself demands that everyone competes, and in fact, many fields do not benefit from competiton. For example, scientific research, and health-care.

      Forced competition requrires individuals to live in a world not of their own making, a form of depraved capitivity. Some people are not good at competing, or have no interest in it.

      Why must everything be a race? Can’t we have a world in which where competition works best, it does independently of fields where co-operation is the norm?

      We can say over and over that it is Trump’s fault, Clinton’s fault, Reagan’s fault, but no one can really stop the self-destructive nature of Capitalism. It always strives to eliminate regulation because regulation prevents maximum profitability.

      1. Steven Greenberg


        I think this is a great article, but I have a small nit to pick with your comment.

        Maybe you weren’t thinking about what goes on in academia, scientific research, and health care. There is a lot of competition to get published (first), get patents, get tenure, and get promotions. Some of this does spur some people on to greater accomplishments, but certainly some of this does get excessive.

        From my own experience, I often wonder that if some of our high achieving researchers get more and more rewarded financially, they start having to spend more time managing their wealth, and less time on innovating.

        As in most things, a little competition is good, but an excessive amount can be toxic.

        1. Anarcissie

          The central principle of capitalism isn’t competition, it’s domination and exploitation. How often do you see a major capitalist enterprise encouraging competition?

          1. Isotope_C14

            Anarcisse: competition in make the poor fight each other for jobs. I’m poor, and Always have been, so I have a class filter. :)

            Steven: Regarding what goes on in academia – you say it yourself. It spurs “some” people. Science is best left alone from grant seeking capitalist mindsets. Everyone could contribute to science, if they were allowed. You don’t publish negative or neutral results for example, ensuring someone repeats it pointlessly.

            If the truly talented are in science, they shouldn’t be wasting their time complying with a finance mentality. Would you ask a person at Goldman Sachs to figure out why you have pancreatic cancer?

            1. Nell

              As an academic scientist, I can tell you that the majority of scientists, even many high flyers who are rewarded quite handsomely, deplore the way universities are managed, and the marketisation of academia. I have been disappointed by their lack of resistance though. In the UK there are signs, however, that academics, including scientists, are beginning to wake up to the fact that their bosses really couldn’t give a shit about anything but income and their own status. We only just finished having the longest strike in the history of the sector and our 16,000 people joined the union this year. Perhaps the tide is turning?

              1. Isotope_C14

                Hi Nell,

                I hope for the best on your union.

                I think it is too late though for science to wake up. Many folks in the system are for some reason resistant to being branded as “political” – at least in the US.

                Same is true for abrupt climate change. I saw one of Paul Beckwith’s videos and he says he doesn’t currently have a teaching position anymore.

                I don’t see a way out of this:


                But the “energy” companies need to make more money.

    2. Hayek's Heelbiter

      Speaking of St. Bill Clinton.

      I never realized this until I became an ex-pat, and I am going to have to rely on the NC community to clarify the exact details, which I well might have gotten muddled up.

      Apparently, up until 1992, in a holdover from the Eisenhower era, all executive salaries greater than $1m had to come out of POST-tax profits, in which case shareholders would become exceedingly upset.

      According to a show I watched in the UK, St. Bill Clinton changed the tax law so that ALL executive salaries would come out of PRE-tax income. Suddenly the higher the salaries you paid, the more you could deduct from corporate taxes. All of a sudden, as we have seen, the sky’s the limit.

      If I’m mistaken on this please correct me.

      1. John Zelnicker

        @Hayek’s Heelbiter
        June 18, 2018 at 6:36 am
        You’re close. The $1m limit was imposed back in the ’80’s, IIRC, perhaps as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986. As a result, corporations starting using stock options and awards as part of executive compensation since these forms of payment were not subject to the limit.

        I must have missed Clinton’s change, I thought the limit still applied.

        Nevertheless, the use of stock options and similar has become one of, if not the, biggest portions of executive compensation. The cover story is that this aligns the incentives of the executives with that of the stockholders. The truth is that it motivates executives to manipulate the stock price in their favor on a short term basis with, e.g., stock buybacks.

      2. Gina

        Excellent observation, especially in light of the graphic drawings that show ties of all the major news media in the USA to the CIA (you will have to see it on a YouTube video concerning the release of the sanitized version of the Inspector generals report as the MSM is not talking about what is really going On). The press is supposed to be the fourth branch of government telling the public the truth, instead we have propaganda and smart people find themselves spending hours a day trying to discover the truthful alternate reality. Stream the channel “Pluto” or search YouTube for foreign news channels such as Skyview, RT, and France Tv.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      By the time Clinton formally ended Glass Steagall, it was already shot full of holes. Credit Suisse, a bank, acquired First Boston, in part in 1988 and completed the acquisition IIRC in 1992.

      Bank deregulation went on in pieces starting in the mid 1970s.

      Having said that, you can blame Clinton and his Democratic party allies for their enthusiasm and effectiveness for ending the Democratic Party’s role as defender of the working class and poor. Recall Clinton ended welfare as we know it and gave us the crime bill that created “three strikes and you are out” and gave a big impetus to mass incarceration of blacks.

      1. Amfortas the Hippie

        the idea that Clinton was the best republican president ever, doing more to actually implement the Right’s economic ideology is still resisted tooth and claw by a great many democrats.
        their current love of Obama, in spite of evry Clintonesque thing he did to make things worse, flows from that original prohibition on criticising Billary.
        I listen to my mom gripe about everything from the capture of the FDA to the capture of the media…and when I point to specific legislation, born in Heritage, but signed and championed by Billary, I am met with hostility and iron disbelief.
        It’s maddening, to say the least.
        It’s gaslighting as a systemic auto de fe….I Remember these instances of betrayal by the demparty….remember when they were in the news, and even on TV…but it’s like it never happened.
        Like I’m schitzoid and misremembering some fever dream, born out of unwarranted hatred fro the Clintons.
        But…”eppur si muovo!”,lol.
        what can be done to undermine this mysterious faith that stands in the way of any real change for the better?

        1. Elizabeth Burton

          You’ll get the same reaction if you point out that the immigration law now simply being implemented to its fullest (as opposed to something Trump dreamed up over breakfast) was signed off by Slick Willy. Oh, and it included a provision that allowed for funding for a second wall to back up the one that already existed then.

      2. Gina

        Good point next time don’t forget the “Super Preadators” name calling of African Americans coined by the Clintons.

    4. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you.

      Glass-Steagall featured on another blog recently, http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2018/06/harper-happy-anniversary-glass-steagall-we-miss-you-come-back.html.

    5. Summer

      I think we need to realize the Presidency just may be the office of the head-cheerleader for capitalism.
      The bigger culprit just may be the things we do to one another in the name of pleasing “the system” and out of fear of what will happen to one’s own family if you call BS on how the great majority of people are “supposed” to live their lives.

      1. Nell

        Good point. It is not as if those in power who subjugate their fellow mortals are going to give power and wealth away without a fight. We should all be asking ourselves ‘what am I doing to resist? what can I do to add to resistance?’ There is always something.

  3. cripes

    Sure, unless you lived in NYC, where Mr Trump played a considerable role in turning it into an Emporium of the Vapid Rich, International Money Launderers and their courtiers.

    Anyway, I took her to mean he has an image of the working class frozen in time to the Archie Bunker show, and is continuing to shred the tattered social state left to him by Ronnie, George, Bill, George the Lessor and O’blarney.

    So Bill, yeah. And all the rest.

    1. PKMKII

      Trump is a conservative in the most visceral sense, a flailing, sad attempt to turn the clock back to a romanticized notion of the America of his youth. The others wrecked us in the name of this or that ideology, but Trump is wrecking us in the name of his tantrum over his world changing and him not liking it.

        1. jrs

          so when food stamps have work requirements, it will just be “the world wasn’t changing anyway”. I see.

  4. abynormal

    Hungry…PBS did a special on child hunger, finding that many children watch food cooking networks to give themselves a break from thinking about how hungry they are. Most Childern take turns getting themselves invited to friends home around dinner time.

    Many families shop at Dollar stires and find they still have to put back anaffordable foods.


  5. ambrit

    Oh sweet woman, she sings the blues so well.
    I wasn’t in a formal ‘working class’ family. My Dad was a Technocrat. However, the social dynamic was the same, but on a slightly higher financial level. The fear of losing status, which to a youngster meant toys and food and parental attention, was strong. The juxtaposition of our lower class origins with the Petite Bourgeois neighbors left a chasm of expectations within the soul. The lady’s citing of Fear as the driver of dysfunction is spot on. With Fear, a canny manipulator can move the world.
    If anything, the lady’s last lines are too restrained.

    1. apothecary

      I don’t believe the fear of losing status even registers with those impoverished. Status is completely gone and thoughts of wonder and curiosity surround those who have more. There is an underlying (somewhat erroneous) assumption that I held (while growing up in poverty) that those in higher socioeconomic backgrounds are happy. The reasoning lies in the logic (of a child) that “if I had those things and didn’t suffer from hunger and low self-worth, I would be happy.” This logic to some degree has its truth. If that impoverished child were to later on obtain a comfortable standard of living, they would experience a burden lifted and an accompanying happiness. (Although the emotional and social wounds can persist, as they can leave a deep imprint on a child)

      Fear is also a huge driver of behavior among poor children, but not necessarily the fear of loss of status or standing. The fear of breaking your one good toy, ripping or ruining your favorite of the 3 pairs of pants you own, doing something careless that will cost the family money (and having to deal with your parents stressful reaction)……the list goes on and each misstep is marked with pain.

      That is not to say that the alienation from other walks of life and the lack of status is not felt. It is harshly felt (lack of friendships, embarrassments, stares, insulting customer service…) But feared? No. One does not fear the loss of something unobtained.

      Having experienced more than one socioeconomic distinction in my life, I see the obvious chasm between groups of people from a couple perspectives.

      I look back and see how being alienated from the well-off affected me socially. It was difficult to see the upper class as having personal problems and very human feelings. From personal experience, I didn’t feel that they would ever befriend me or care, and likewise, I didn’t care for them.

      [Later, as an adolescent, I received encouragement from teachers and a few friends who really helped shape my life. I was also never educationally impoverished which vastly (or wholly) enabled me to succeed financially.]

      From the “well-off” there is much labeling and blaming. Depending on one’s political disposition, the names are different of course. To the conservatives, the impoverished are lazy and lack good work ethic. They fall victim to their vices and need to find God to help them pull themselves up from their bootstraps. The liberals generally don’t find fault with those in poverty. They are the victims of capitalistic greed and our institutions (namely the government) need to step in to stop the economic slavery. Which ever side you find yourself on, I commend you for acknowledging the problem. That is a start. But I would like to ask, how many of you have actually known someone, befriended someone, or helped someone personally who lives in poverty?? (on a meaningful level)

      1. ambrit

        How does a child define status? The most direct method I can think of is by comparing physical possessions. Who has the better toys, etc. The phenomenon of stealing toys from each other is a recognized strategy of social dominance games among children. At least I experienced it as such. I remember losing some money I was given to go to the local store to get something for the family with. The stark fear and self recrimination are almost palpable even today, decades later. The idea of attaining a higher standard of living removing anxiety from the soul is flawed. Such learned behaviours are not expungeable. Even today, I catch myself ‘hoarding’ items for some potential future calamity, even when a rational and logical investigation of the circumstances would not warrant it.
        You wrote: “I look back and see how being alienated from the well-off affected me socially. It was difficult to see the upper class as having personal problems and very human feelings. From personal experience, I didn’t feel that they would ever befriend me or care, and likewise, I didn’t care for them.”
        Being alienated, in and of itself is a harm. It colours ones’ entire experience of life. To the extent that the “upper classes” are socially raised up on high as a group to be emulated, the fact of not belonging engenders self loathing and self doubt. Most of us grow up and react to the milieu in which we dwell.
        We are social beings. The environment in which we live cannot but affect how we view the world, and ourselves. Not caring for “them” is a reaction to a hurt, not a positive act of self realization. Secondly, being decently educated is not an automatic ticket to easy street. To succeed financially in today’s world requires certain mind sets along with the education. I know well educated people in straitened circumstances and idiots with plenty of money.
        Finally, it being early morning for this habitual insomniac, I would assert that there are quite a few people who comment on this blog who are “unwealthy,” indeed barely getting by. Lots of us live with poverty, or its’ close cousin, prcariousness.
        Glad to have a back and forth with you. Education is a key, just not what passes for formal education today.

        1. apothecary

          Your comments about children stealing toys are interesting. I didn’t experience it much myself as I didn’t have many toys or friends over to steal them. But I see how children would participate in that. Are there articles on the social dominance strategy game there? I am interested in learning more. Is it more prominent among boys or girls or neither?

          I do think some learned behaviors are expungeable. I no longer feel that a higher standard of living brings internal happiness (learned from experience). BTW I do not ascribe to the idea that not attaining personal happiness demonstrates a character flaw.

          I did want to express through my own personal example that divides in social classes exist even among those who might consider themselves poor. The lack of hope of a brighter future is quite poignant among many people. [which in my opinion is a predecessor to many social ills: drug misuse, crime, decreased life expectancy, etc. which in turn affects us all] I have been on the giving and receiving end of animosity towards the “well-off.” I would hope that with this perspective that I would have a neat solution or good ideas on remedies to these problems, but unfortunately this is not the case. The first words for a solution that come to mind are openness, understanding, and economic relief. And I do like reading blogs of other’s ideas.

          It is true that education is not a sure-fire way of attaining a better standard of living. I know this lesson oh-so-well, growing up in poverty with a virtually unemployed parent with two masters degrees. However, it was my ticket and I do believe I couldn’t have made it out of poverty without my education (I cannot be absolutely certain, but my talents are limited).

          Glad to hear I’m not the only one on this blog to find myself in a precarious financial situation.
          I want some of your insomnia to rub off on me. I’m currently dealing with low energy.

          1. ambrit

            I just came across this. I don’t possess the ‘sa’avy’ to have replies to my individual comments highlighted. That way, the rolling scan of the entire comments thread leads to felicitous occurrences of learning.
            Insomnia is an affliction I do not wish on anyone. If one does suffer so, making the best of the time opened up to one works out the best. I read somewhere that one usually must stay up for roughly two hours before the internal physiological drives allow for sleep to be reinstated. That has been my observation.
            Many here can chime in on the ‘low energy’ front. I see it as a side effect of my messed up (a precise technical definition, no doubt,) sugar metabolism. When I can restrict my daily sugar intake, my general feeling of well being stabilizes at a more equitable state. Even though it might be, (a passive aggressive formulation if I ever saw one,) against site policy, I’ll recommend B-12 for breaking the morning cycle of “the blahs.” When Phyllis encountered a period of severe ‘down cycling’ during her forties, a GP supplied her with a prescription for B-12 injections. It seemed to work at the time.
            I am not at all sure that most of us are educated to be, much less strive to be, Stoic Philosophers. The real trap of Poverty is that it takes up most of a persons’ time. Observations of returned prisoners of war who were starved as semi-official policy show that thoughts of food insecurity continue to drive decisions on a day to day basis long after the actual starvation events had ended. Abused people need rehabilitation for very definite and good reasons. (That also speaks to the plague of prison inmates being foisted upon American society today. The very size of that abused population is a predictor for increased social dissolution and dysfunction going forward.)
            One of the good aspects of being in the commentariat is that engagement in it fosters self reflection and at least an attempt at learning new things.
            That’s the best ‘fallout’ effect of a decent education; the ability to learn forever more.

  6. The Rev Kev

    Poverty does indeed sink deep into your bones and more than you think. Osteoarchaeologists analyzing ancient bones can tell if a person suffered from the malnutrition of poverty and whether an individual had a hard labouring life by how it altered the bones. The bones in your own body can tell people a lot about how you lived your life.
    I have read John Michael Greer saying how when talking to well-off people about poorer Americans, the hatred is almost visceral. And this was before 2016. We all know what happened after the 2016. The hatred for so-called Trump voters was right out in the open but it was really a hatred for poorer Americans. Remember those expeditions that reporters took into Trump territory as if they were some sort of anthropologists? It is this general hatred that allows for this wide-spread poverty to continue.

    1. ambrit

      Eventually, the hatred gets reflected back. Usually, the ‘lower’ orders are conditioned to envy their ‘betters.’ The moment when that envy shifts to hatred is the cusp that all serious revolutionaries watch out for.
      The Trump election, the Brexit vote, and Italy’s “off centre” election results are leading indicators, not lagging ones.
      Time to refurbish the bug out bags.

  7. Wyoming

    It seems that those who foster ideologies that deny decent lives to millions believe that people will take it forever. History, however, suggests another possibility and in it perhaps lies some consolation. Namely, that when misery reaches its nadir, it seeks change. Enough is enough was the implicit cry that helped form unions, spur the civil rights movement, launch the migrant grape boycotts, and inspire the drive for women’s liberation.

    There are other kinds of changes which happen even more often…like riots and revolution .. and savage repression.

  8. Carla

    I highly recommend Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.”

    Used copies available at Better World Books (free shipping):

  9. Eclair

    I ran across this graph this morning, while looking for something else. From the CDC, it dramatically highlights the increase in the rising rate of obesity among US adults, ages 20 to 74, starting in the 1970’s. The article points out that poor people and people of color are more likely to be obese. Obesity leads to poor health and earlier death. And, wow, what other rate began to rise sharply in the 1970’s? US incarceration rates. And, what class of citizens are most likely to be incarcerated? Yeah. We have transitioned seamlessly from the War on Poverty to the War on Poor People.

    1. JTMcPhee

      One hopes that with “our” other declared wars, on poverty, drugs, etc., the Empire loses (as against the declared goals of the “war,” not against the covert ones of course) yet again…

  10. PKMKII

    Even among the outwardly well-intentioned, there’s a bad tendency to think of the poor as being the like the rich but with less money. They assume the poor have the same outlook, the same opportunities, the same general life arc, they just do it with less money and more basic goods. Which leads to flawed approaches like these training/adult education initiatives, as if the source of poverty is not systemic but rather a lacking resume.

  11. Newton Finn

    “Recently, doctors have received much of the blame for providing too many opioid prescriptions too easily, while poverty is hardly blamed at all.” Strange, isn’t it, that you can walk into a bar and get briefly happy with social approval, but the use of any other substance that induces a bit of euphoria, even one which helps many to escape the clutches of chronic pain, is blanketly condemned and severely punished? That said, I thank Ms. Gologorsky for her insight, earned the hard way, into the driving force behind self-medication, whether socially approved or proscribed; i.e., the brutally inhumane context–what Bellamy calls the immemorial, oppressive “rule of the rich”–in which we are compelled to live our fragile, yet beautiful lives. In my autumn years, I find my bit of happiness in reading and pondering Bellamy’s twin 19th Century works of utter genius: “Looking Backward” and “Equality.” I invite others to experience their vividly detailed and thrillingly viable utopian vision, before such radical, revolutionary literature is also deemed too dangerous to be legally consumed…and all that remains is to get drunk.

  12. Adam1

    I shake my head everything I think about the urban poor and rural poor have been used as pawns for what seems to be decades now. These groups, at this point, are equally abused and screwed by criminally our elite leaders and yet they remain divided mostly because of propaganda and broken promises they are .

    Liberals refer to where they live as fly-over country, call them hicks and rednecks and generally deride them. When they lose their jobs they are told the government will provide re-training, but there are no jobs where they are now and nobody asked them if they wanted to move – it’s implied (or worse yet never considered by those making the offer) they have to give up their homes and communities that their families have lived in for generations.

    Conservatives never lose a chance to remind them that the liberals are coming for their guns. Liberals love minorities, look at all that wasted government money going to welfare queens and your community is in decline by liberal moral decay (they won’t remind them of all the bankrupt farmers and closed factories).
    And yet sadly things would look very different if the poor were united by their real common enemy and not divided.

    There is a reason why Bernie Sanders won basically all the same counties in rural Upstate NY during the primary that Trump won in the general election.

  13. Left in Wisconsin

    This is really fabulous and I think the comments blaming Trump or Clinton or Obama or all of us for being at fault are completely missing the point. The movement that is going to be required to come to grips with any of this will need to be vast and encompassing and IMO socialist in some way that people will be able to embrace that we probably have yet to articulate.

    This is my major problem with the current Dems – the notion that this or that policy or virtue signaling is somehow a small effort to make things better. No, it’s not.

    I think probably the most important first step in a real movement for change is, as the author suggests, a real poor peoples’ movement not led by, at least not exclusively by, professional NGO-ers. And although there is probably a movement just waiting for the right ignition event, creating and sustaining such a movement is likely to be very difficult, not least because the NGO-ers, sometimes even with the best of intentions (which is not often), have a tendency to suck all the air out of everything.

  14. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    If media talk shows were ever to invite the real experts on, those who actually live in neighborhoods of need, so they could tell us what their daily lives are actually like, perhaps impoverishment would be understood more concretely and provoke action. It’s often said that poverty’s always been with us and so is here to stay. However, there have been better safety nets in the relatively recent American past. President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s, though failing in many ways, still succeeded in lifting people out of impoverished lives. Union jobs paid fairly decent wages before they began to be undermined during the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Better wages and union jobs aided people in finding better places to live.

    During the past few decades, however, with huge sums being poured into this country’s never-ending wars, unions weakening or collapsing, wages being pushed down, and workers losing jobs, then homes, so much of that safety net is gone. If Donald Trump and his crew of millionaires and billionaires continue with their evisceration of the rest of the safety net, then food stamps, welfare aid directed at children’s health, and women’s reproductive rights, among other things, will disappear as well. Add to that the utter disregard the Trump administration has shown for people of color and its special mean-spiritedness toward immigrants, whether Mexican or Muslim — and for growing numbers of non-millionaires and non-billionaires the future is already starting to look like the worst, not the best, of times.

    We should perhaps stay with that claim a little longer.

    Is poverty here to stay?

  15. flora

    Thanks for this post.

    Once upon a time (1930 – 1970’s) the Dem party and Dem estab would have swung into action to stop the financial the abuses of the poor and working and middle classe; would have worked to ease the burdens of the poorest children and elderly.

    Now, since you’ve mentioned the Gilded Age, I conclude the Dem party and Dem estab have wholly embraced social Darwinism – even as it was discredited last century as anything more that a rational by the richest for laissez faire and racism.
    Now the Dems, instead of swinging into action to stop the abuses, save the banks that caused the crisis and go chasing after affluent suburban GOP votes.

  16. Scott1

    I myself have long said that Clinton Unit 1 was the greatest Republican of all time. The relationship of the Clinton Unit to Haiti in policies and practices ingratiated the Clinton Unit unto the rice growers of Arkansas. Haiti’s rice farmers were destroyed. “Sorry about that.” he has said.

    I have said that if you want to see the way the Clinton Unit practices and policies, say maybe perversion of Jamesian (William James) Pragmatism, look at Haiti where they have played out. When Moon gave Haiti to Clinton Unit 1 and Bush Unit 2, it was some real icing on the cake right there it was.

    Poverty is policy in Haiti. The poor cannot be good enough to get the deed to where they live. This policy is more and more the fact for the majority of Americans. Where I live most people of our means have been pushed into surrounding counties. We have no realistic hope of ever having enough on our own to ever own the deed to where we live.

    It is Pragmatism that is the only Philosophy considered to have come from American thought, acceptable as a real philosophy equal to or better than all others. Stalin as an ally stretched the ideals underlaying what Pragmatism is for, since all thinking can degenerate into rationalization when the motives are corrupt. The importance of the Goals of thought overrides any philosophy.

    Who of us cannot be glad Scientific Socialism was defeated?

    Philosophy always ends up knocking at the door of theology. For the Dictators it is their opportunity to become Demigods to eliminate religion and preach atheism. Lenin in glass is an idol. Life is the present of the physical and spiritual all at once, so better to invent god than have to live with a pretender.

    “Go Forth and Multiply!” That’s the goal? Is that all God has to say?
    I’ll invent a God that says “Go Forth and make invisible bridges and bridges.” Go make sustainable systems, I am infinite but you’re not living on an infinitely productive farm.

    It is a positive thing for the UN’s main thing from the Secretary Guterres is a push for Sustainable Development. I argue that as wonderful and smart as that policy is, it is not what the UN was really invented to have as its number one initiative.

    I myself spend the majority of my best time doing something positive regardless of whatever the ignorant, evil, & misguided are up to. But the UN cannot ignore War, and their failure to stop it or at least even enforce the rules.

    The UN was founded to end war. In a one world government there will forever be then civil war. Enforcing the rules of war as conducted between the civilized to establish dominate ideas is the best to be hoped for amongst the pragmatists.

    So eliminating WMDs and particularly nuclear weapons ought be the Number One of UN work to be done. Nukes are the power of god to destroy all of humanity that has a duty to go forth and be forever, multiply only that far.

    It is not right for a man to have the power of a God to wipe out all men to the point where not even the wisp of their spirits remains.

    Sustainable Development ought be the number two priority.

    There has always been enough food in America for all of the population that lives in America. It is the System we have inherited and created that makes it possible for there to be hungry children in America. Pride is a manifestation of a feeling of value of your live. Beggars are the least valued people in our society. It is definitely possible to starve to death in the US itself.

    The euphemism for poverty now, a function of the minimum wage since most people homeless or not do some kind of work to get enough money to at least eat, is “Food Insecurity”. Where there is an overall high level of economic activity there is are incredible levels of food insecurity. Here in Beverly Grogorsky’s essay, 15 percent. Couple of years ago in the Triad Business Journal of central North Carolina the percentage of the population living in persistent food insecurity was reported at 23 percent.

    We are living in an era when the system shows itself to be a failure so dramatically for so many people that a violent revolution is more daily the expectation, since nothing about for or within America gets done without the employment of violence. That there will be no “living wage” established in America without a great eruption of violence is about guaranteed.

    I clearly hear the word “poor” and think of war. In the US Class War more of the poor are made hungry. When post revolution there is famine as there was post Bolshevik Revolution and post Communist Revolution as given the people by Mao, those oh so idealistically packaged revolutions led fast to famines.

    Hence it appears that regulated democratic capitalistic systems, in not causing famine are more practical than any leap towards communism when it so fast has become dictatorship.

    We have not witnessed in our time famine in India. About all of Ghandi’s economic policy amounted to was “Want Less”. What Sen said was “In times of famine ignorant women and their children starve first.”

    You could say over the long haul things are looking up for India. They have a system of government that post revolution, or post independence from Great Britain gained over all, more food security for their citizens since the last famine was under British rule.


    P.S. India’s space program and space industry has become very accomplished and competitive. The last famine I know of in India was the one mostly laid at the feet of Winston Churchill who withheld the available supply of food as a reserve that was not necessary for the ing of British Troops towards the later part of WWII. As a result there was famine in the eastern part of India.

    1. Elizabeth Burton

      On the other hand, there’s this: https://www.rt.com/news/430121-india-water-shortage-crisis/

    2. flora

      It is Pragmatism that is the only Philosophy considered to have come from American thought,

      No. Pragmatism is rooted in the philosophy of John Stuart Mill, an English philosopher of the 19th century. See Mill’s utilitarianism and ethics.

  17. precariat

    “The poor, missing in action.” Having trouble connecting to this metaphor. Does the writer mean that the poor are all around us but treated as the “the other” to whom lip service and perhaps well-intentioned emapthy is directed, but for whom real acknowledgement by the national narrative is missing?

    If so, then majority of the 80% of Americans are also missing in action.

    1. flora

      I think the national politicians do ignore the 80-90% of all of us when it comes to economics and public policy. (Our campaign contributions are too small to get the politicians’ attention, apparently.) I also know that there are still stories in the media about the falling middle class and the impoverishment and destruction of the working class. But stories about the poor, the desperately poor, have all but vanished compared to reporting 30-40 years ago. And, also, I think plight of the very poor – particularly for children and the elderly – is an order of magnitude worse than the plight of the working class and middle class.

      I don’t know why the reporting on the very poor has vanished. Is it a case of ‘not frightening the horses’, as the old saying goes? That is, if the middle class and working class still think there’s a decent safety net for the poor then they won’t be as alarmed at the direction of the country as they would be if they realized the safety net has all but disappeared for the least among us? Or, to put it another way, if the middle and working classes are beginning to see that they themselves could find themselves poor in this country through no fault of their own, then is keeping alive the illusion of a decent safety net for the poor a necessary lie to keep the working and middle class quiet as their own economic lives implode? Reporting on the real state of the poor in this country would surely alarm and rile up the working and middle classes who can still think ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ So the MSM thinks (or is instructed) it’s better not to report on the state of the poor and of poverty in the US.

      These are just some random thoughts that are probably worth what you paid for them. ;)

      1. flora

        Adding: I’m going to buy this book. It sounds like excellent modern reportage on an important subject, in the same school as Studs Terkel’s ‘Working’.

        (And, not that it matters, I despised J.D.Vance’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’. I won’t say he was ‘wrong’, as a memoir cannot be ‘wrong’ anymore than an opinion can be ‘false’. But I will say that poverty is NOT a “family tradition”; more often than not it is a socially and economically imposed condition. I find blaming the victim, especially blaming the victim after saving oneself, is not an attractive look. -end rant)

        1. flora

          adding: oh, I do go on. please forgive me. this has roused the muses.

          The last lines of the great American novel Moby Dick are:

          “Ishmael: [voiceover] The coffin. Drowned Queequeg’s coffin was my life buoy. For one whole day and night , it sustained me on that soft and dirge-like main. Then, a sail appeared; It was the Rachel. The Rachel who in her long melancholy search for her missing children found… another orphan. The drama’s done. All are departed away. The great shroud of the sea rolls over the Pequod, her crew, and Moby Dick. I only am escaped… alone, to tell thee. ”

          Imagine how the meaning would change if another line had been added along the lines of: “and those who perished deserved their fates. And I alone am found worthy.”

          Let’s just say it would never ever have been regarded as one of America’s greatest novels. Never.

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