Monday, November 27, 2006

How America Treats Its Poorest Citizens

"As University of Southern Illinois researcher Alison Crane has documented, African-Americans, Hispanics, native Americans, Asians and other minorities such as migrant workers and the working poor disproportionately suffer harmful health and safety effects as a result of their exposure to various environmental hazards located near their communities. These contamination sources include toxic municipal landfills, waste incinerators, industrial dumps, chemical plants and uranium mines.

Today, in the U.S., three out of five black and Hispanic Americans live in communities with one or more toxic waste sites, and more than 15 million African-Americans, more than 8 million Hispanics and about 50 per cent of Asian/Pacific Islanders and native Americans are living in communities with one or more abandoned or unsecured toxic waste sites."

The above paragraphs, taken from a Toronto Star article, presents an ugly picture of how America treats its poorest citizens. But like it or not, the picture is a true one.

Most of us know about the poverty wages. The current wage for the poor is less than $6.00 an hour, and even if the minimum wage was raised to $7.50 an hour, as has been recently discussed, this would still leave a family of four below the government-defined poverty level.

Most of us also know about the lack of health insurance. The poor don't have access to regular health care from a doctor of their choice. They're lucky if they can squeeze into a crowded community hospital emergency room for an already out-of-control medical condition, that could have easily been handled earlier by some simple preventative care.

We also force the poor to live in substandard conditions in high crime areas, and then treat them as criminals because they live in that area. A few years ago here in Fort Worth, HUD wanted to scatter its new housing units across the city in an effort to help break the cycle of poverty. But the middle-class was incensed and quickly killed the idea. In their minds, the poor were nothing but property-abusing criminals, when the truth is that most are decent hard-working folks.

The final insult is to put our enviornmentally-suspect industries in the areas where our poorest citizens live. The above-quoted article tells of a medical waste incinerator placed in one of the poorest areas of New York after being denied a permit to operate in Manhattan. The incinerator is now causing health problems for the poor children.

But this kind of thing is not limited to New York. It happens all across our country. A plant that is considered too dangerous to put in a middle-class area, is perfectly OK for placement in a poor area. After all, they don't have the political power to stop it from happening.

It is to our shame that a nation as rich as ours has a significant poverty problem. But to compound that shame by placing enviornmentally-suspect businesses in poverty-stricken areas is criminal [and should be treated that way]. If a business is too dangerous for a middle-class area, then it is also too dangerous for a poor area.

We need to correct these problems, and see that it doesn't happen again.

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