By: Tony Best
Two countries, one the world’s richest and the other the poorest, have a common problem: poverty.
And while the reasons for it differ widely and the U.S. and Haiti are miles apart when it comes to the share of the population living on less than two dollars a day, the net effect is the same: millions of people in the United States and Haiti are going to sleep at night hungry and have little hope of emerging from that debilitating condition. The cynics, including Republican presidential standard-bearer, Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan, blame the victims, insisting that they are not doing enough to help lift themselves out of the tragedy of poverty, others, especially President Barack Obama are trying to do something about it.
According to U.S. data released the other day by the U.S. Census Bureau, 15 per cent of individuals across the nation live below the poverty line, down slightly from the 15.1 per cent recorded last year. In reality, 46 million people in America live in poverty. On the other hand, the World Bank in Washington listed Haiti as the poorest country in the world with 77 per cent of its 10.1 million souls unable to make ends meet in an acceptable way. More than half of Haiti’s population lives on less than $1 a day, while about 80 of the country exist on less than $2 daily. To add to Haiti’s woes, the estimated unemployment rate of 40 per cent is preventing a large segment of the population from improving their standard of living. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Haiti which suffered greatly from a devastating earthquake in 2010 that caused the deaths of more than 250,000 people; made 1.5 million homeless; and left $ 8 billion in damage in its wake is fighting hard to rebuild itself.
But neither the U.S. nor Haiti is alone. More than 1.3 billion of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants live on $ 1 day or less, not nearly enough to prevent hunger and malnutrition. The vast majority of them can be found in the developing world, including the Caribbean and Latin America where 45 million of the region’s 550 million people are forced to survive on less than $1 day.
Looking at the picture in the U.S., the Rev. Al Sharpton, the prominent civil rights leader and national television public figure, correctly described the latest poverty numbers at home a “wake-up call” and used the figures to call on the poor and the middle class to support President Obama in his bid for re-election to the White House in November. His position made eminent sense.
Yes, the Rev. Sharpton said, the poverty rate was high, too high> But consider what it would have been if the president hadn’t pushed for and succeeded in getting increased unemployment benefits totaling 99 weeks for those who can’t find jobs; spent hundreds of billions on an economic stimulus program; enacted comprehensive health care reform; and introduced other programs, all in the face of stiff opposition from Republicans determined to protect the interest of the wealthiest one per cent of Americans.
“By now, most are aware of the magnitude and depth of the economic crisis that President Obama inherited in 2008,” said the Rev. Al. “In addition to preventing the economy from falling off a cliff, the President pushed forth a multitude of measures that haven’t even been factored into these latest poverty stats. No-cash government aid like food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit and more aren’t included in the equation when these figures are compiled.”
The civil rights advocate is right. Add these programs to the equation and millions more people in the country would have been lifted out of the poverty arena. With more help from the Republicans on Capitol Hill whose single focus is making Obama a one-term chief executive, the quality of life for millions more would have been dramatically improved.
In the poorer countries around the world hunger, extreme income inequality, a lack of resources and the daily operation of the economic and political systems in the world are maintaining poverty rates in Haiti, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Madagascar, Eritrea, the Congo and Swaziland at between 60-77 per cent of the population. In a recent analysis of global poverty, 24/7 Wall Street, which assesses financial and economic trends for investors, linked extreme poverty in the 10 poorest nations to low educational attainment and severe obstacles to good health which are facts of life. The obvious solution is a re-arranging of international priorities; greater assistance to those countries in dire need; and a reduction in the mountain of debt that’s blocking the path to prosperity.
Haiti is a special case. It has suffered from one calamity after another in recent years. Hurricanes, storms, an earthquake and floods, you name them, all acts of nature, have struck the Creole-speaking nation and have kept it in a state of abject poverty, stifling most national and international efforts to reverse the tragic trend. Add the current cholera epidemic that was introduced into the country by foreign troops and caused the deaths of more than 4,000 people and the nation’s plight would be become clearer.
Obviously, the donor countries and international financial and development organizations can do more to help. They must go beyond promising billions to rebuild the country. They should urgently deliver on their pledges of financial assistance and human expertise.
Haitians at home and abroad are doing more than their fair share. In the past two years, those persons living outside of their birthplace have sent more than $ 4 billion in remittances to their families to upgrade their living standards. Without those financial contributions, the country would be worst off.
If we do nothing we would make the maxim, “the poor will be always with us,” a self-fulfilling prophecy.