The legions of us creep up to the counters at our local grocery stores…
… and surreptitiously reach into our wallets or purses and quickly pull out that distinctively colored food card and swipe it, all in the blink of an eye. I’ve become proficient at that maneuver myself, actually. It doesn’t matter, though. You still get the looks from the cashiers. You can see these young kids looking at you and you can practically read their minds. They’re saying, “Why don’t you get a job, old man?” or something to that effect but possibly with a nastier tone. Or is it just our own insecurities that make us think this?
Earlier this morning, I read a great article by Chris Cook of Salon.com over at Alternet.org. Mr. Cook is having some financial difficulties these days; seems that many of us are, doesn’t it? Chris writes about his recent experiences while applying for food assistance in his state of residence (California). He cites a thought-provoking statistic:
The soaring food stamp rolls, though quite predictable in the midst of a deep recession, have inspired wealthy Republican candidates for president (is there any other kind?) to brand Barack Obama “the food stamp president,” even though, according to USA Today, the rolls rose more sharply under President George W. Bush.
Roughly one in six Americans (one in five children) does not have reliable access to food. According to USA Today, citing census data, nearly half the country is poor or low-income. Even as unemployment eases modestly in some places, the vast underbelly of America is, economically and nutritionally, underfed.
One in six. Amazing, huh? Here we are in America; land of the free, home of the brave, etc. Nearly 17% of our population (higher if you just count children) are going to bed hungry every evening. Something smells rotten, and it’s not all the uneaten food that we American gluttons throw in the garbage every night. No, it’s something… I’m not sure… it seems to be emanating from pretty much any government facility you drive by. Ah yes! It’s the smell of inefficient, bureaucratic waste and greed. Stephen Moore states in a Wall Street Journal article that more Americans work in government than in manufacturing, farming, fishing, forestry, mining, and utilities combined. Gee! I wonder if any of them are on food assistance. I seriously doubt it. They’re comfortably gorging at the public trough… no utensils needed, just dig in.
How have I fallen back to where I was when I was a food stamp, Head Start kid (getting, yes, free lunches)? America is supposed to be the engine of progress, and each of us is assigned the “promise” and, effectively, the duty, of keeping up that steady march. Even though I never bought the American narrative of progress and opportunity, I somehow feel like a bumbling screw-up for not holding up my end of the bargain.
My parents were Depression Era kids. They and my aunts and uncles were all on some sort of government assistance at one time or another back then. The times were very, very hard. My father used to say, “You young folks need a nice depression of your own so you’ll understand what it’s like to go to bed hungry and not have any money to pay the bills.” Well, dad. You got your wish, it seems. Myself, my brother, many of my friends and neighbors are all suffering to some extent through this current depression/recession or whatever the hell the talking heads want to classify it as this week. Hell, you’ve even got Dirty Harry giving halftime locker room pep talks. Makes you wonder, huh? WWHD = What would Harry do? “Feel lucky, punk?”
It’s an ugly time in America. What does the future hold? More greed? More corruption? More government bickering and gridlock? Yeah… probably. But hey, I’m a pragmatist. I’m hungry after all this typing. Think I’ll go eat a package of those ramen noodles. I can by it by the case with my food assistance card. Remember, cheap food makes FAT, sickly people. Ain’t it great? Oh, that’s a whole ‘nother topic, though.
P.S. I don’t have anything against government workers. I’m just envious of them. 😉
I’m on Food Stamps: My Shame and Pride in Signing up for the Most Stigmatized Benefit – Christopher Cook/Alternet.org
We’ve Become a Nation of Takers, Not Makers – Stephen Moore/Wall Street Journal
Government Employment & Payroll – U.S. Census Bureau