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Health Care and Poverty: We are Failing Our Most Vulnerable

As a nation, we are failing the most vulnerable members of our society.

The number of homeless schoolchildren, uprooted amidst the financial turmoil of the last few years is rising:

There were 679,000 homeless students reported in 2006-7, a total that surpassed one million by last spring, Ms. Duffield said.

With schools just returning to session, initial reports point to further rises. In San Antonio, for example, the district has enrolled 1,000 homeless students in the first two weeks of school, twice as many as at the same point last year.

Between foreclosures, job losses and catastrophic illness costs, it’s not just the very poor who are feeling the pinch. The middle class is hurting, too, as families who never had to ask for assistance in the past suddenly depend on it just to get by from week to week.

These days? We’re all a paycheck away from disaster, it seems.

And the elderly? New analysis shows that the poverty rate among those over 65 is far worse than previously thought:

Nearly 20% of Americans over 65 would be considered poor if the government updates the way it calculates poverty, which hasn’t considered medical costs, regional variations and other factors since its creation in 1955.

Currently, the poverty rate for that age group is 9.7%, or 3.6 million people. If the government adopts a revised formula by the National Academy of Sciences, that figure would jump to 18.6% — 6.8 million people…

Recently, a United Way group in Illinois tried to give its volunteers a glimpse into life for the "other half." The lessons learned were some hard ones:

Participants were separated into six different low-income family types and assigned a role to play under various situations, including being newly unemployed, a new applicant for government assistance or a part-time employee relying on food stamps.

Families had to keep their home secure, pay their bills, feed their families and keep the utilities on for a month using various income and debt scenarios. Services such as an employment office, pawn shop, banker, food pantry and grocery store were available. To reach them, though, every person had to use a $2 transportation voucher, which grew scarce as money ran low.

If you have never had to face unexpected poverty, or didn’t grow up around it as a child, then these situations might sound dire. For folks who have lived barely scraping by? It sounds like a whole lot of life.

Certainly personal responsibility plays a big role: bad choices make for bad results for a lot of folks. But for young kids who didn’t choose the families into which they were born? Or for the elderly who have seen retirement savings shrink over the past few years while prescription doughnut holes have expanded?

Who wants to tell their grandma the fact she has to choose between her medicine and food is her own damned fault and to stop whining about prescription drug profit margins.

There is a Kathy Mattea song that I love called "Seeds," where she says that we’re all just seeds in God’s hands — we start the same, but some of us land on fertile soil and some of us get sand at the start. Compassionate people understand it from the get go.

Would that everyone did, because we are failing those who are most vulnerable in this country.

Christy Hardin SmithCommunity

Health Care And Poverty: We Are Failing Our Most Vulnerable

As a nation, we are failing the most vulnerable members of our society.

The number of homeless schoolchildren, uprooted amidst the financial turmoil of the last few years is rising:

There were 679,000 homeless students reported in 2006-7, a total that surpassed one million by last spring, Ms. Duffield said.

With schools just returning to session, initial reports point to further rises. In San Antonio, for example, the district has enrolled 1,000 homeless students in the first two weeks of school, twice as many as at the same point last year.

Between foreclosures, job losses and catastrophic illness costs, it’s not just the very poor who are feeling the pinch. The middle class is hurting, too, as families who never had to ask for assistance in the past suddenly depend on it just to get by from week to week.

These days? We’re all a paycheck away from disaster, it seems.

And the elderly? New analysis shows that the poverty rate among those over 65 is far worse than previously thought:

Nearly 20% of Americans over 65 would be considered poor if the government updates the way it calculates poverty, which hasn’t considered medical costs, regional variations and other factors since its creation in 1955.

Currently, the poverty rate for that age group is 9.7%, or 3.6 million people. If the government adopts a revised formula by the National Academy of Sciences, that figure would jump to 18.6% — 6.8 million people…

Recently, a United Way group in Illinois tried to give its volunteers a glimpse into life for the "other half." The lessons learned were some hard ones:

Participants were separated into six different low-income family types and assigned a role to play under various situations, including being newly unemployed, a new applicant for government assistance or a part-time employee relying on food stamps.

Families had to keep their home secure, pay their bills, feed their families and keep the utilities on for a month using various income and debt scenarios. Services such as an employment office, pawn shop, banker, food pantry and grocery store were available. To reach them, though, every person had to use a $2 transportation voucher, which grew scarce as money ran low.

If you have never had to face unexpected poverty, or didn’t grow up around it as a child, then these situations might sound dire. For folks who have lived barely scraping by? It sounds like a whole lot of life.

Certainly personal responsibility plays a big role: bad choices make for bad results for a lot of folks. But for young kids who didn’t choose the families into which they were born? Or for the elderly who have seen retirement savings shrink over the past few years while prescription doughnut holes have expanded?

Who wants to tell their grandma the fact she has to choose between her medicine and food is her own damned fault and to stop whining about prescription drug profit margins. (more…)

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com