While it’s often discussed as a major social and economic issue in places like Central America and Eastern Europe, the missing middle class is a concept that is beginning to creep into dialogue surrounding the United States as well. With 2012 stretched out before us, will the poverty line become ever more pronounced, or will we begin to see it fade over the next several months?
It is a question Americans are asking with anxious eyes on the horizon. While there seems to be small steps forward in our struggle to balance the economy once again, there are a variety of issues that make us think things are not going to be easy.
Since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, American jobs, careers and employment perspectives have been on the chopping block. Considered one of the quickest ways to cut costs, many companies found themselves in the position of having to eliminate professional positions in order to stay afloat.
Over the past several years, the number of job cuts has remained fairly steady across the nation. The result has been a shrinking middle class who finds themselves now requiring government assistance more than ever in order to provide for themselves and for their families. People who once thought they were secure through retirement need to start from scratch without all the given resources to do just that.
To date, government anti-poverty programs such as Medicaid and Food stamps are seeing record-setting enrollment numbers. With a steady increase in participants over the past two years, 2012 doesn’t seem an obvious choice for the year when these numbers turn around.
The lines between low-income and middle class have begun to fade and now, more than ever Americans find themselves in the position of having to question the role and effectiveness of government relief organizations. Many of us are asking: what happens next?
Luckily, there may be a spark of opportunity for those Americans struggling in poverty. As of January 2012, the government released its findings that employment was at the highest level since 2009. While this is not an enormous improvement, for those struggling to find work, it is the hope they have been looking for. It is the chance that there may be a job out there that will provide for basic needs. There could be a moment just around the corner when things begin to look brighter. In a year that follows on a string of annual hardships, 2012 is looking for an answer.
While 2012 may not be the year that the United States sees a full recovery, it is definitely a year in which people are taking a stand and looking for innovative answers. There is a general consensus that basic help is no longer an option. With growing numbers of people looking for assistance, government and non-profit organizations alike are looking for new ways to assist and provide for long-term success.
Food programs are a top priority at the White House as well as many state-funded organizations this year. With unemployment rates continually unsteady, Michelle Obama has made it her goal to reach out and affect change within the school lunch programs. With low-income families adding to their ranks daily in the wake of job-loss, children find themselves in a vulnerable position. If their families cannot feed them because of financial hardships, who will?
Adding to the stress on children of low-income families is the pressure to perform well in school, even on an empty stomach. There is a stigma of embarrassment that threatens a child who cannot afford the same basic necessities as other in the class. In the past, the National School Lunch Program often accounted for these children by providing cash subsidies to schools. In return, schools were able to offer either reduced cost or free meals to students. It allowed for children to eat and feel a sense of solidarity with their classmates, yet it did not account for nutrition.
In 2012, schools across the nation will see nutritious improvements in school lunches no matter what the cost. Whether free, low cost or regularly priced; school lunches will be required by the government to include more whole grain, provide reduced fat and calorie products and increase the number of vegetables and fruits served. While the number of students using these programs may be rising, the quality of assistance is increasing and this is a step towards long-term success. Children who are well-provided for have a great chance of growing into strong, healthy and successful adults in the future.
Other programs are taking long-term visions into account as well. WIC, the federal program that supports pregnant women and children, has made a dedicated effort to expand their own services and on-going participant education as the number of women they serve has risen. Instead of limiting offerings, the program has made an attempt to advertise specialized classes, and childcare training in order to prepare women for a healthy and productive future.
The Food Stamps program is no different. In the face of swelling numbers of hungry families; program workers have made changes in their structure and methods as an attempt to safeguard the success of valid participants. Debit cards have replaced many vouchers and nutrition requirements have been made more strenuous. Instead of letting fears of program abuse stop them; the program has adjusted to refocus on rehabilitation and nutrition.
It is easy to become discouraged by the statistics. It is tempting to become frustrated by an economy that seemingly refuses to budge. But if we take the small glimmers of hope we are presented with, we might begin to see that 2012 could be a catalyst for some major changes ahead. It is not a secret that we still struggle with unemployment as a country. The number currently stands at 8.2% which may not seem hopeful at first glance, but is in fact down from 8.5 % just the month before.
Every percentage point counts when the welfare of American families is on the line. While 2012 may not see drastic jumps in statistics, the year will bring dramatic efforts to provide for those in need with quality care and hope for the future. The government and charitable organization alike will be working towards developing systems that take sustainable futures into account.
Do you think these steps in providing quality service will make 2012 the year that America begins to see changes on the horizon?