Every day we read and hear about catastrophic economic problems in the United States and abroad, but are we becoming numb to these realities?

A reader recently challenged me to write something positive about the economy. My response: “That might take time. I’ll get back to you.”

Yes, the statistics and numbers are scary, but that’s no reason to ignore them, either. They can only get worse if we don’t continue to face them head-on.

David McGraw, author of “The Elite vs. the People of the United States of America”, writes, “We hear some of these numbers all the time, so much so that it appears as if we have already begun to ‘normalize the unthinkable’ but, behind each number is an enormous amount of individual suffering.”

The suffering McGraw refers to exists in the richest nation in history, that also has the highest poverty rate within the industrialized world – more than 50 million citizens who need food stamps, and 50 percent of America’s children needing food stamps to eat at some point in their childhoods.

According to McGraw, around 20,000 people are added to this growing total each day.

More than 50 million U.S. citizens live without any health care coverage.

Indeed, we have the most expensive health care system in the world, pay twice as much for care as most other countries and yet are ranked 37th in care quality.

“Americans have lost $5 trillion from their pensions and savings since the economic crisis began and $13 trillion in the value of their homes,” according to McGraw. Personal debt has risen from 65 percent of income in 1980 to 125 percent today, and there are now more than 3 million homeless Americans, more and more being single parents with children.

“One place more and more Americans are finding a home is in prison,” McGraw sadly reports. America has more incarcerated people than any other nation in the world, the per capita statistic at 700 per 100,000 citizens. China has 110 per 100,000, France, 80 per 100,000, Saudi Arabia, 45 per 100,000.

According to “Incarceration Nation,” a report from the Hartford Advocate, “a new prison opens every week somewhere in America.”

Further, unemployment, one of the country’s major albatrosses, isn’t really being completely reflected in the government’s official ratings.

For one, they don’t factor in people who are “involuntary part-time workers,” that is, ones that want full-time work but can’t find it. They also don’t count “discouraged workers,” meaning long-term unemployed people who have been too discouraged to seek jobs.

The reality is that unemployment is by no means leveling off.

Being constantly bombarded with the latest numbers by the media often has a numbing effect on us, de-sensitizing us to the reality that these casualty figures reflect a society in deep turmoil, one where people are routinely putting off medical care and are under increasing psychological strain to put food on the table for their children, or cover their rent, mortgage and heating costs, never mind car, gas, telephone, cable or Internet bills.

When more than 60 percent of Americans are living from paycheck to paycheck, it’s time for everyone to stop and think.

The facts of the American economic crisis are there for the rational mind to comprehend.

It should be obvious to all of us that our political parties and three branches of government are being unduly compromised by a powerful elite. Whatever our differences in opinion and interpretation, unless you are part of this oligarchy, you are not their friends.

I was recently having lunch with a friend who noted that the vast majority of our national legislature is composed of people who are wealthy and/or from wealthy families.

With the exceptions of our current president and Abraham Lincoln, among a few others, many if not most of our presidents came from wealthy backgrounds.

Let’s get real. Most of us are not wealthy. Therefore, we cannot afford to be apathetic about how our economic and social institutions are being manipulated by the rich.

And we certainly cannot afford to be distracted by the billions of dollars spent every year to advertise us out of our senses and further muddy the political waters.

In our own individual ways, we should wake up to corporate control over our daily lives and overbearing partisan politics in our communities and demand more of our fair share of income, care and services for the working woman and man. Yes, this will take imagination, but what choice do we have?

What we need more than anything is to get over any feelings that we might be less badly off than our neighbor, and realize that the day is fast approaching when we’ll all be in the same sinking ship together.

There is no more time for false distinctions like upper, middle and lower classes. To hang on to them is to only further the ideologies that empower the rich.

 

Leigh Donaldson is a Portland writer whose book, “The Written Song: The Antebellum African-American Press in the Northeast,” is due for publication this year. He can be contacted at:

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