Hungry. For Change, Sure, But Also Just Hungry.

[Content Note: Food insecurity; poverty; class warfare.]

Yesterday, President Obama gave an address on the state of the US economy at Northwestern University, just outside Chicago. Leading into the midterm elections, clearly his focus was to highlight the gains the economy has made and optimism that the work yet to be done is underway. And that's certainly the tone he struck, with the usual emphasis on the need for a thriving middle class:
So it is indisputable that our economy is stronger today than when I took office. By every economic measure, we are better off now than we were when I took office. At the same time, it's also indisputable that millions of Americans don't yet feel enough of the benefits of a growing economy where it matters most — and that's in their own lives.

And these truths aren't incompatible. Our broader economy in the aggregate has come a long way, but the gains of recovery are not yet broadly shared — or at least not broadly shared enough. We can see that homes in our communities are selling for more money, and that the stock market has doubled, and maybe the neighbors have new health care or a car fresh off an American assembly line. And these are all good things. But the stress that families feel — that's real, too. It's still harder than it should be to pay the bills and to put away some money. Even when you're working your tail off, it's harder than it should be to get ahead.

And this isn't just a hangover from the Great Recession. I've always said that recovering from the crisis of 2008 was our first order of business, but I also said that our economy wouldn't be truly healthy until we reverse the much longer and profound erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes.

So here's our challenge. We're creating more jobs at a steady pace. We've got a recovering housing market, a revitalized manufacturing sector — two things that are critical to middle-class success. We've also begun to see some modest wage growth in recent months. All of that has gotten the economy rolling again, despite the fact that the economies of many other countries around the world are softening. But as Americans, we measure our success by something more than our GDP, or a jobs report. We measure it by whether our jobs provide meaningful work that give people a sense of purpose, and whether it allows folks to take care of their families. And too many families still work too many hours with too little to show for it. Job growth could be so much faster and wages could be going up faster if we made some better decisions going forward with the help of Congress. So our task now is to harness the momentum that is real, that does exist, and make sure that we accelerate that momentum, that the economy grows and jobs grow and wages grow. That's our challenge.

When the typical family isn't bringing home any more than it did in 1997, then that means it's harder for middle-class Americans to climb the ladder of success. It means that it's harder for poor Americans to grab hold of the ladder into the middle class. That's not what America is supposed to be about. It offends the very essence of who we are. Because if being an American means anything, it means we believe that even if we're born with nothing — regardless of our circumstances, a last name, whether we were wealthy, whether our parents were advantaged — no matter what our circumstances, with hard work we can change our lives, and then our kids can too.

And that's about more than just fairness. It's more than just the idea of what America is about. When middle-class families can't afford to buy the goods or services our businesses sell, it actually makes it harder for our economy to grow. Our economy cannot truly succeed if we're stuck in a winner-take-all system where a shrinking few do very well while a growing many are struggling to get by. Historically, our economic greatness rests on a simple principle: When the middle class thrives, and when people can work hard to get into the middle class, then America thrives. And when it doesn't, America doesn't.

This is going to be a central challenge of our times. We have to make our economy work for every working American. And every policy I pursue as President is aimed at answering that challenge.
Lots of good stuff there, and also lots of the usual bootstraps bullshit that imagines it's possible for people in poverty to move into the middle class if only they really want to and try hard enough, which justifies policy that's really wealth redistribution upwards but pitched as maintaining the middle class, rather than policy centered on lifting people out of poverty.

The President gives lip service to the idea that the recovery isn't broad enough, but doesn't say flatly that the recovery has "bypassed the majority of American households" and that "future growth is likely to be lopsided, because the foundation for broad prosperity is arguably the weakest it has been since World War II." That is the conversation we refuse to have—because neither party is truly interested in a bottom-up economic policy.

We'll still "debate" the efficacy of trickle-down economics as though it hasn't been resoundingly discredited, but we won't even whisper the suggestion that what we truly need is trickle-up economics.

Because fates forfend the most privileged people in the country just be expected to maintain while we focus for a minute on people who have nothing.


On the same day the President gave this address, the findings of a new study by Feeding Indiana's Hungry and Feeding America were published. Just over the state border in Indiana from where the President was speaking, "1 in 6 Hoosiers, or an estimated 1.1 million people in Indiana, turn to food pantries and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families."

1 in 6.

And, contrary to conservative narratives about lazy moochers who don't want to work: A majority of the households (61%) in Indiana served by Indiana agencies and programs "have at least one member who has been employed in the past year," and among all served households where someone is employed, "the person with the longest employment duration is more likely to be employed full-time."

In fact, 59% of households with an employed person using social services include at least one full-time worker. And they still cannot make ends meet.
"The results of this study show us that the face of hunger is one we would recognize in every Hoosier community," said Emily Weikert Bryant, Executive Director of Feeding Indiana's Hungry. "Many of our neighbors who are seeking food assistance have jobs, raise families, work toward education and struggle with health problems, like all of us. Too often, our clients also have to make unimaginable choices to get enough food for their families."
Here are some statistics about those choices:

* 85% of households report purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy [for them] food because they could not afford healthier [for them] options.

* 64% households have a member with high blood pressure.

* 34% of households include a member with diabetes.

* 77% of households report having to choose between paying for food and paying for medicine or medical care.

* 45% of these households are making that choice every month.

* 77% report choosing between paying for food and paying for utilities.

* 39% of these households are making that choice every month.

* 78% report making choices between paying for food and paying for transportation.

* 44% of these households are making that choice every month.

* 63% report choosing between paying for food and paying for housing.

* 31% of these households are making that choice every month.

* 40% report choosing between paying for food and paying for education expenses.

* 19% of these households are making that choice every month.

* 60% of households reported using three or more coping strategies for getting enough food in the past 12 months, including but not limited to: Eating food past the expiration date (62%); purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food (85%); pawning or selling personal property (43%); watering down food or drinks (35%).

The truth is, we can talk in civil tones about abstract policy positions, and we can debate tax cuts vs. tax increases, and we can use anodyne language to talk about "the recovery," and we blather on endlessly about various ideas to strengthen the economy, but, at a certain point, we've just got to start feeding people.

We are the wealthiest nation on the planet, and we aren't feeding people.

I say, loudly and often, that Republicans think people aren't entitled to food, and they don't. I'm not sure Democrats do, either. Not really. Because our Democratic president is still talking about how America gives everyone an opportunity to succeed, while there are millions of people watering down food to survive.

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