While partisan, insular Washington dithers over the federal debt, the true depth of the nation's economic struggles and the impact of unemployment has come into sharp relief outside the Beltway. The U.S. Census Bureau reports one in six, or 15.1 percent of all Americans, is living at or below the poverty line. The middle class, long the bedrock of the nation's economic vitality, is also at risk of losing its claim to the American dream. It's urgent that bipartisan political compromise and business leadership get this country back to work.
The depressing numbers are a cry for help. About 46.2 million Americans now live below the poverty line, the highest figure since the Census Bureau began tracking 52 years ago. An average family of four lives in poverty at or below $22,113 a year, or about $425 a week in income. In 2010 alone, 2.6 million more Americans joined that group.
The median income for all Americans fell 2.4 percent to $49,445. That number, when adjusted for inflation and spending power, suggests Americans are no better off than in 1973, when Richard Nixon was in the White House.
The census figures indicate the pain hasn't fallen proportionately. Median income for the bottom tenth of the economic ladder dropped 12 percent since 1999, while those in the upper tier of income saw a decline of just 1.5 percent.
The census also found 49.9 million Americans don't have health insurance. Yet, in Washington, Republican leaders have no fresh ideas for how to insure them, only a relentless drive to undermine the Affordable Health Care Act.
President Barack Obama's $447 billion jobs plan of tax cuts and stimulus efforts has been subsumed into the predictable partisan banter that now passes for debate in Washington. If not that, Congress, then what? Americans on the brink of poverty or already there deserve more promises than less regulation and tax cuts.
Meanwhile American corporations, run by leaders who frequently enjoy significant tax loopholes, sit on an estimated $1.5 trillion in liquid assets. They need to step up and start demonstrating some faith and confidence in the value of American workers by investing in the nation's economic future. More Americans may be poor than at any time in the past half-century. But this country never has had a shortage of citizens willing to roll up their sleeves.