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The USA makes poverty a crime despite recession, author writes

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Summary of story from Salon, August 9, 2011

When Barbara Ehrenreich was writing her book ‘Nickle and Dimed‘ in 2000, for which she worked as an undercover journalist to chronicle the lives of poor Americans, it was a time of “boundless prosperity,” she says.

Now, in wake of a continued financial crisis, she warns about worsening conditions for poor Americans – and the extent to which US policy has made poverty a crime.

In a new afterword, Ms Ehrenreich updates the relevance of ‘Nickle and Dimed’, published in 2001 .

“When you read about the hardships I found people enduring while I was researching my book — the skipped meals, the lack of medical care, the occasional need to sleep in cars or vans — you should bear in mind that those occurred in the best of times,” she writes. “The economy was growing, and jobs, if poorly paid, were at least plentiful.”

Ms Enrenreich hoped to find out how people were coping now, after the recession, and conducted new interviews and tried to follow up with people she had written about in ‘Nickel and Dimed’.

And she found that city officials have made certain aspects of daily life for people in destitute poverty illegal – such as sitting, loitering, sleeping or lying down, and that in defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually intensified as the weakened economy generates ever more poverty.

Some cities, such as Las Vegas and Orlando, have made it illegal to share food with the poor in public places.

And a city in Florida began enforcing a rule that limits the number of meals soup kitchens can serve to 130 per day.

When people are unable to pay for unexpected fines, fees or other expenses, the money they owe compounds – as well as their legal penalties.

Ten years ago, when her book came out, she called for a higher minimum wage, universal health care, affordable housing and other “liberal” changes – “all the other things we, uniquely among the developed nations, have neglected to do.”

But now she calls for more modest demands: “Stop underpaying people for the jobs they do,” she says.

“Stop treating working people as potential criminals and let them have the right to organize for better wages and working conditions.”

  1. Jane Osmond says:

    Not just in the US – the poor in this country are blamed for their poverty as we can see with the media discourse concerning the riots.

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