Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Big Rock Candy Mountain
Like all weeks, last week was a tough week for poor people. Three new reports came out, showing that it's not all Double Mocha Cappuccinos and Chicken O'Tenders for everybody in George Bush's America.

If you're a kid in Kentucky (and you don't have access to a laser printer for printing your own counterfeit $20s) there's a one-in-five chance that your life is pretty hard. The new "Kentucky Kids Count" report shows that 22% of Kentucky's children live in poverty. Our state consistently ranks among the poorest states in the nation, and the Commonwealth came in 42nd this year (in your face, Mississippi!) out of 50 states in overall quality of life for children. The county-by-county report shows that while kids in Boone, Oldham, Spencer, Calloway and Rowan Counties are livin' large, their counterparts in Clay, Leslie, Martin, Wayne and Cumberland Counties are scraping to get by. Nearly half of all kids live in poverty in those counties.

And while you might think the main culprit is the Commonwealth's consistent lack of adequate funding for education, you'd only be partially right. The report calls out parental smoking as enemy number one for kids, because it leads to everything from low birth weight to poor health to having to constantly traipse down to Tobacco Road to get momma a pack of Luckies. It's a woeful, self-perpetuating cycle for far too many Kentucky children.

At least the American Dream still beckons from the 'burbs, right? Wrong. Across America, poverty is no longer a problem just for inner-city and rural areas. According to a new Brookings Institution report, the suburbs now have more people living in poverty than inner cities for the first time ever -- at least one million of them. Suburban Louisville's poverty rate rose from 8.8 to 9.1 from 1999 to 2005, but some cities' rates are as high as 40%. If you find the sight of those guys holding up "Will Work For Food" signs in the shadow of Holiday Manor Shopping Center unsettling, consider this warning: experts predict increasing crime, crumbling infrastructure, and other socioeconomic problems that are traditionally the domain of cities, to start afflicting the suburbs.

So where did all the money go? To the rich! According to a new report from the UN's World Institute for Development Economics Research, the richest two percent of people own over half of the world's wealth. And the richest one percent own over 40% of the world's wealth, and that's not even counting Oprah. Guess where most of them live: America! If you think times are tough in Middletown, try living in India, where average wealth (assets minus debts) is $1100 US.

So, where's the good news in all of this? Maybe this: If you own $61,000 in personal assets, you're among the top 10% of the world's richest people. Give yourself a pat on the back. And next time you pass that homeless dude in Hikes Point, slip him a fiver.