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The Old “Story” Of Poverty

By Farooque Chowdhury

29 July, 2013

Poverty in the poor part of the world is not an exclusive case. It’s globe-encompassing. Societies touting as rich and prosperous are failing to escape the devastating “aroha”-touch of poverty.

An exclusive Associated Press report by Hope Yen once again presents the fact. It’s an old fact with new data that reaffirms capitalism’s incapacity to eradicate poverty.

The July 28, 2013, Washington datelined report said:

“Four out of 5 US adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives …” And, “[m]easured in terms of a person’s lifetime risk … 4 in 10 adults falls into poverty for at least a year of their lives.”

After presenting the grim fact the report observed:

This joblessness, near-poverty, etc. are “a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.”

In the US, the report said, “the count of America’s poor remains stuck at a record number: 46.2 million, or 15 percent of the population …”

According to the report, the share of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods — those with poverty rates of 30 percent or more — has increased to 1 in 10, putting them at higher risk of teenage pregnancy or dropping out of school in the US.

The capitalist economy is failing to cease school drop out. A comparison of the fact with post-revolutionary societies in central and eastern Europe, before their demise, help evaluate the two systems.

Marriage rates, the AP report said, are in decline across all races, and the number of white mother-headed households living in poverty has risen to the level of black ones in the US.

Poverty, an incapacity of capitalism to eradicate, or, it can be said, a product of the economy, is influencing family, an institution capitalism proudly claims that it upholds and defends. But, fact tells, capitalism is devouring one of its sanctum sanctorum although it accuses socialism of plotting the sinful job.

Citing census data the report mentions “race disparities in the poverty rate have narrowed substantially since the 1970s… Economic insecurity among whites also is more pervasive than is shown in the government’s poverty data, engulfing more than 76 percent of white adults by the time they turn 60…” Since 2000, the poverty rate among the working-class whites has grown faster than among the working-class nonwhites, rising 3 percentage points to 11 percent. Still, poverty among working-class nonwhites remains higher, at 23 percent. While poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics are nearly three times higher, the report added, by absolute numbers the predominant face of the poor is white: more than 19 million whites fall below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four, accounting for more than 41 percent of the US’ destitute, nearly double the number of poor blacks. “The invisible poor”, lower-income whites, are dispersed in suburbs and small rural towns, where more than 60 percent of the poor are white, said the report.

Capitalism doesn’t make any division among Blacks and Whites although there are persons claiming to be progressives and anti-capitalists still draw a White-Black line among the working people.

For the first time since 1975, according to the report, the number of white single-mother households living in poverty with children surpassed or equaled black ones in the past decade in the US. White single-mother families in poverty stood at nearly 1.5 million in 2011, comparable to the number for blacks. Race disparities, the report said, in health and education have narrowed generally since the 1960s.

Capitalism doesn’t spare mothers.

Based on survey data the AP report said: The data “points to an increasingly globalized US economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend” cited above.

The report refers to US president Barack Obama’s highest priority: Reverse income inequality.

Two fundamental issues emerge from the above mentioned information: (1) loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs, and (2) reverse income inequality. What’s the cause of loss of manufacturing jobs and income inequality? Why capitalism is failing to provide good-paying manufacturing jobs? Is reversing income inequality possible, even if micro-enterprises are floated, micro-finance net is spread, while the causes that create the inequality are kept intact? The marketers of micro-finance and micro enterprise never answer the question.

As normal consequence, the economy presents hardship, pessimism, etc. “Hardship”, as the report said, “is particularly growing among whites …Pessimism among that racial group about their families’ economic futures has climbed to the highest point since at least 1987” in the country.

The economy bears no ingredient of optimism. Along with alienation it saps human qualities and spreads pessimism.

Renee Adams, 28, a jobless single mother with two children, the AP report cites, relies on her boyfriend’s disability checks to get by. Adams expresses a wish that employers will look past her conviction a few years ago for distributing prescription painkillers, so she can get a job and have money to “buy the kids everything they need.” “It’s pretty hard”, she said. “Once the bills are paid, we might have $10 to our name.”
Does it echo early-English industrial labor? Is it far away and a lot different from the poor in today’s poor societies? It’s the universal face of the poor under capitalism.

“The risks of poverty also have been increasing in recent decades, particularly among people ages 35-55, coinciding with widening income inequality” in the US, said the AP report. In the age group 35-45, it was a 17 percent risk of encountering poverty during the 1969-1989 time period; it has increased to 23 percent during the 1989-2009 period. In the age group 45-55, the risk has jumped to 17.7 percent from 11.8 percent.

The numbers for the AP report come from Rank’s analysis. This is supplemented with interviews and figures provided by Tom Hirschl, professor at Cornell University, John Iceland, sociology professor at Penn State University, the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute, the Census Bureau and the Population Reference Bureau. So, the data cited are difficult to deny.

The report quotes William Julius Wilson, a Harvard professor specializing in race and poverty: “It’s time that America comes to understand that many of the nation’s biggest disparities, from education and life expectancy to poverty, are increasingly due to economic class position.”

Denying the class division, whether one likes it or not, is not possible. The reality reaffirms it. None, other than stupids and persons in the pay roll of capitalism, deny class position although poverty-fighting mechanisms are “innovated” without taking into account the class question.

What does the advanced capitalist economy convey to the posterity? An answer is there in the AP report. It cites a citizen of the US: Children have “nothing better to do than to get on drugs.”

Dispossession-reality in the Orient is not different from that of the Occident.

A report in The Asahi Shimbun on June 23, 2013 presents a poverty-picture in Japan, an economic model to a section of mainstream economists in poor countries. The report “Young people struggle to emerge from poverty” by Masaki Hashida mentioned a middle-aged person. To save money, the person’s only meal is breakfast, and the breakfast is with rice, miso soup, fermented beans and broiled fish. The person has lost 30 kilograms in two years.

Caption of a photo along with the report said: A man saves money by not turning on the lights.

Is it, not turning on lights, symbolic, a symbol of the economy?

The man, according to the report, is a victim of a “black company”, an employer that harasses employees, forces them to work long hours often without pay, and presses them to resign. The monthly pay from these companies appears limited to 200,000 yen ($2,104).

Hence, it comes out: Big entrepreneurs irrespective of poor and rich societies are the same while they compete in market. They harass, they force to work long hours, and often they don’t pay, and these give them competitive edge. How much value, after the above fact, sermons from rich societies carry?

According to the country’s National Tax Agency, 10.69 million people working in the private sector in Japan earned 2 million yen or less a year in 2011.

The person mentioned in the AS report is not alone or he is not a stray case.

The AS report cited Haruki Kono, head of nonprofit organization POSSE: The black companies “exploit employees by forcing them to work for the same job as stated in manuals to such an extent that they get sick and eventually quit.”

Does it sound Marx, as he detailed back-breaking work of industrial labor in capitalist economy in Europe?

Statements of two political leaders were mentioned in the AS report. One of the leaders decried the income gap. The leader said: “Young people cannot become regular employees even after graduating from university. Non-regular workers are paid much less.”

Doesn’t it reflect labor’s bargaining (in)capacity and its precarious position? And, what does labor’s bargaining incapacity signify? Mainstream economists know the answer well.

Narration of the AS report includes:

The middle-aged man showed a letter from his employer that was handed to employees: “If someone wants to sacrifice him- or herself to work, recommend that the person work 15 hours and 40 minutes a day, or 4,200 hours a year.”

The person worked at least 250 hours each month for a monthly wage of 200,000 yen. But his pay slip only showed 70 percent of the hours he actually worked, and he was paid only half the promised amount.

Capitalism in this millennium, joyfully invented as so and so by a section of proud mainstream economists determined to prove Marx’s depiction of capitalism now wrong, has not forgotten the thieving. “Dignified” capitalism is not dervish, it’s thievish. Should anyone dream of fighting out poverty by keeping intact the thievish system? Still there are enlightened persons with the “mission”, today with this name and yesterday with that name, banking on and business-ing with the system.

The middle-aged man, the press report from Japan said, graduated from an elite high school and entered a national university in the Tohoku region. The man in his 30s living in a one-room apartment in Tokyo’s Itabashi Ward has taken on a variety of jobs, including work at a construction company, an adult-entertainment business and a waste-disposal facility. All of those were black companies. The person took out consumers loans, and poverty forced him to sleep in buses and trains for a couple of years.

Neither adult-entertainment nor waste nor turning a debtor brought his emancipation from poverty. But despite the fact poor-“friend” “monks” in the service of banks shall not stop delivering their commandments to “fight” out poverty.

Although, the report said, the person was supposed to work “inside Tokyo’s 23 wards,” he was frequently dispatched to remote areas. On a typical day, he woke up at 7 a.m. and worked until 1 a.m. His monthly salary, 200,000 yen, did not include overtime. He eventually became ill and quit the company. He now lives on welfare. “Many jobs become difficult if one gets older,” the man said. “It’s not that I am lazy, but there are no decent jobs. Only ‘black’ jobs are available.” A company he was employed with asked him to cut his hair and warned, “You can be fired at any time.” “I cannot tell if or when the company will fire me,” he said. “In order to stay mobile, I do not buy extra home appliances, including a refrigerator.”

Isn’t commanding hair cutting, how much petty that may appear, a form of regimentation? And, doesn’t uncertainty with job take away freedom and sense of security, much cherished goals of capitalism? An all encompassing regimentation is imposed with such petty regimentation implemented with the demonic tool of ever-uncertainty at all levels of life in capitalist society.

The man, at the time of the press report, was on medical leave due to physical and mental illness.

The AS report quotes Makoto Kawazoe, an official at the General Union of Young Workers in Tokyo: “The largest segment of the poor is actually working. In addition to low wages and short-term employment, they lack sufficient unemployment benefits, which make it difficult for them to move out from the impoverished class.”

Isn’t it a chain that binds down human being? Doesn’t it happen elsewhere? It happens in the entire domain of capitalism.

It’s not only an Oriental “tale”. Germany, today’s mighty economy, faces similar reality.

“Poverty afflicts Germany’s older ‘guest workers’”, a Deutsche Welle report by Günther Birkenstock (11.07.2013) presents a few poverty-facts: Older foreigners living in Germany, who have worked there for many years are more commonly affected by poverty than German citizens. It’s a divide within labor – “privileged” and non-privileged, a requirement to have a favorable bargain by capital.

Thousands from southern and eastern Europe, the report said, migrated to Germany in the 1960s and 70s. Most were fleeing poverty in their countries while a booming Germany was in need of a labor force. The need led the economy to allure the migrant labor, “lovingly” naming them “guest workers”. With a hope for a better life, the migrant labor worked in steel factories, mines, automobile manufacturing plants and cafeterias.

But, alas, prosperity remained a mirage for most of the migrant labor.

Citing a recent study by the economic and social sciences institute of the Hans Böckler Foundation the report said: Today, more than 40 percent of migrants in retirement age are affected by poverty, which is more than triple the poverty rate among German citizens.

According to Eric Seils, co-author of the study report, poor payment is one of the three main reasons for the high poverty rates among older migrants. Other two main reasons are: Many of the migrant labor were left out, lost jobs, in the 1980s when the industrial sector slumped and the service industry grew, and they were excluded from becoming government employee, a large and prosperous sector not at all affected by poverty. In the face of problem, the “guests” were ignored, left out as the variable capital would not then help increase profit.

In 2006, a German Institute for Economic Research study on elderly poverty brought the issue to light. “The number of foreigners in old-age poverty has increased from 170,000 in 2006 to around 270,000 today”, Seils told DW in an interview. And that number is likely to climb further, he added.

Further north, poverty doesn’t spare capitalism.

The reality in Sweden, the Nordic country that prides itself with prosperity, is not a happy one. The suburbs of Stockholm, one of Europe’s richest capitals, experienced riots last May, and the riots were fired by unemployment and immigrant poverty.

The riots, at least for three days, found mob attack on a police station. Cars and an arts and crafts centre were set ablaze and two schools were damaged.

The economy produces inequality, and the increase in inequality in the economy is fastest among the advanced OECD economies. The Nordic country has failed to substantially reduce long-term youth unemployment and poverty although average living standards in the economy are still among the highest in Europe. The poor within the society don’t enjoy the highest living standard. According to OECD, unemployment among the Swedes is 6 percent while it’s 16 percent among the immigrants in the country.

The face of poverty in Greece and Nigeria and Myanmar and Colombia and Egypt and Albania and Russia and Cambodia is the same. Everywhere, all the worm gears of capitalism have the same technique: long work-day, threat with uncertainty, appropriation of surplus labor, dehumanized life. It’s like a sump: fruits of all labor are collected for a few. These “stories” are as old as labor, as old as appropriation of surplus value, as old as getting rich by a few. These “stories” have been told many a times. Still these need to be told as mainstream, advocatus diaboli, the devil’s advocate, doesn’t cease its propaganda of this business and that business but don’t look into source of the riches for a few.

Farooque Chowdhury, a Dhaka-based free lancer.






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