Across the globe a billion people live on less than a dollar a day; another billion on less than two. This is dire, extreme poverty and it is unconscionable. It will take a global political revolution to end it.
Few Americans live under such terrible conditions. Of course, that does not mean that we have no poverty. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 22% of American children live in poverty. That’s 15.7 million kids. In the City of Los Angeles alone, nearly 100,000 men, women, and children sleep on the streets on a given night. An estimated 36 million United States residents go to bed hungry. Indeed, we don’t have sub-Saharan poverty, but we do have real poverty, Mitt Romney’s claims notwithstanding.
Ah, Mitt Romney – and now Paul Ryan. With these two guys in hot pursuit of the top jobs in American government, and without diminishing the plight of the truly poor, I want to propose a new political definition of poverty:
If you work for wages to pay your bills, you are poor.
Conversely, if you go to work, but you don’t have to, and you can still live well, you are rich.
I’ll put it a different way: If you must answer the alarm clock in the morning, you are poor. If you make sufficient money to live on while you sleep, you are rich.
Let’s look at some examples: If you are a musician and your first album sells well, great. But unless your second, third and fourth albums sell well, too, you’ll never be rich. The label will drop you, and you’ll be back to waiting tables. If you are a top corporate lawyer, but your CEO can fire you without notice and “at will,” you better have a good real estate agent to peddle your house by the ocean in Santa Monica. If you’re a star college basketball player, with scores of NBA scouts flocking to your every game, and you injure yourself irreparably – well, you know.
Americans think they are rich, and they want to be rich. Mostly they are not, and they will not be.
A secretary who owns several pairs of Jimmy Choo shoes is not rich; she is merely in debt.
Four years ago, I wrote a piece for this blog called “Vote Selfishly.” In it, I simply urged people to vote their own self-interest – to vote as they are, not as they may delusionally dream to be.
Four years later, I repeat my request: vote selfishly. If you’re an altruist, that’s terrific. If not, just vote to stop the growing inequality, the redistribution of wealth to the rich, which puts your children and your children’s children desperately at risk.
Larry Fondation is a fiction writer, journalist and community organizer in Los Angeles. He is the author of Angry Nights, Common Criminals, Fish, Soap and Bonds and Unintended Consequences