Everyone likes to think that America is a nation of equality and compassion, but the news this past week shows that what really matters in America is where you live and what color you are.
According to census data released a few days ago the poverty rate in America rose again last year up to 12.7 percent, adding another 1.1 million people, and another 800,000 people joined the ranks of the uninsured making the number 45.8 million. It’s staggering to think that in the richest country in the world there are still some many people without any kind of health insurance.
Sadly, though, it is not a surprising fact considering the considerable disparity in incomes in America. 50.1 percent of the nation’s overall income went to the top 20 percent of Americans in 2004. The top .01 percent of this country, about 145,000 people, makes an average of 3 million dollars a year, and things are only getting better for them.
Bush’s tax cuts signed in 2001, which were sold to the country as an egalitarian measure that would benefit everyone, actually benefit, surprise, the rich the most. 53 percent of the tax cuts go to the richest 10 percent of this country and the lucky top .01 percent (those 145,000) will get 15 percent of these cuts.
But those are all just numbers and do not represent the true human scope of income and racial inequality in America.
To view that all you have to do is turn on the news about the disaster in New Orleans.
There are no clear numbers for the dead and displaced in the wake of Katrina yet, but just looking at the official evacuation plan the “Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Evacuation and Sheltering Plan” shows us certain things.
In the case of a hurricane as strong as Katrina this plan says that, “The primary means of hurricane evacuation will be personal vehicles,” and for everyone else there will be buses provided.
The inherent inequality of this is that while people with cars could leave anytime they wanted everyone else had to go to shelters, like the Superdome, and wait until this past Wednesday to be bused out. Many people are still stranded in the city and the conditions in places like the Superdome, where some refugees have died while waiting for aid, are deplorable. And, of course, the people who are left behind and dying are predominantly poor African-Americans.
The same census data I mentioned earlier showed that once again African-Americans had the lowest median household income in 2004. The inequality gap in America is not and never has been limited just to money but to race as well.
Once the complete death tolls are known from this disaster, which is projected to be worse than 9/11, no one will be surprised when the majority of the dead are poor African-Americans. The question is whether anyone will care.
FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which responds to disasters like this was drastically under funded in the past few years since it was placed under the Department of Homeland Security and had to fight for funding with the War on Terrorism. Similarly the funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to upkeep and improve the levees around New Orleans also received heavy cuts by the Bush administration.
Now, New Orleans has always been a city of mostly poor African-Americans despite all of the Mardi Gras hoopla. That racial fact is certainly a factor in the government’s slow response time.
It is staggering to think that these people are now considered refugees. American citizens are refugees in their own country. Our country.
The people still trapped in the city are our fellow Americans. It is disgusting that the governmental response has been so slow.
Our government left these people to rot and die by not having a good evacuation plan, by not funding the proper agencies, and by taking far too many days to respond.
These people needed the help of the federal government and Bush let them down. Kanye West was right, “George Bush does not care about black people.”
I desperately hope that the recent news coverage of refugees will finally awaken some kind of empathy in the hearts of our leaders to not only respond to this disaster, but also attempt to fight inequality everywhere in America.
In the meantime please donate whatever you can. They need our help.