Group Think: The opposite of traditional ''groupthink,'' our Group Think poses one question to a variety of smart thinkers for insightful perspectives on relevant issues.

Prioritizing Poverty

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Credit: Robin Holland

Many of you have wondered about why I said nothing about poverty during my re-election campaign. The reason is that I’ve been saving it up for now. The sad truth is that our nation suffers from shamefully high levels of poverty even in prosperous times, and when I say “poverty” please do not think of “welfare queens,” Romney’s “47 percent,” or any other mythical category. Think of your college-educated son who has become a $10-per-hour barrista or your grandmother while she waits for her next Social Security check. Or think of a nine-year-old who hates school holidays because they mean no lunch.

So I propose to drastically reconfigure our priorities as a nation. I will be reducing military spending to the amount that is necessary to maintain the Coast Guard plus a rapid response force to help out in cases of natural disaster around the world. I will be introducing at least one serious “free market” reform — the abandonment of corporate welfare and bailouts. The funds saved by these and other means will be used to mount a massive public jobs program to rebuild America — not only our physical infrastructure but our social infrastructure, including education, health care, home care and childcare. And that’s just the beginning…

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in AmericaBait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American DreamDancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, This Land Is Their Land, and Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America.

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  • Anonymous

    Saving it up for now??? Must be nice to set aside something like a living breathing person who is in utter despair until you are “ready”! I hope every pain and sorrow visited on them during your wait time finds it way to you. I fantasize of a real life event like those in the movies where people switch bodies. You needed to spend the time you waited for your “right moment” in the body of a poor person hanging on by a thread in utter fear and abandonment. You might of said the hell with the right time, we are doing this now!

  • Patricia Farrow

    Why has our society become so mean-spirited? I know we were built on the dream of the individual gaining wealth, but we are never satisfied with what we get. We must become cognizant of this. When we become excessively wealthy; someone else is losing a decent lifestyle. I know this because my husband was “laid-off” when his company sent jobs overseas and he could not find work, because so many software companies had done the same. It happened to so many decent, hardworking families in America and our economy collapsed due to the greed practiced by so many. Very sad.

  • silvanet

    Let’s see. My guess is “fat chance.”

  • Jack Stansbury

    Yes Barbara, this is one of the most basic things Obama could do to improve so many other aspects of our country, including education, our economy, and our respect for each other.

  • Prof W

    I really don’t understand how the President can sleep at night. It’s one thing to go to bed knowing that, as President, if you send the military into battle, you have condemned thousands to certain death or disability, when that must be done for the sake of protecting our nation’s security –and all military personnel signed up for the job knowing and accepting this. It’s entirely different if you go to bed knowing you have condemned millions of civilians to certain death or disability by ignoring poverty, when that is done for the sake of protecting your 1% billionaire corporate sponsors –and no civilians signed up for life in America knowing and accepting this.

    The President has a responsibility to the 99%. He should be spearheading a campaign to raise the quality of life for the working poor, which includes not just recent college grads in under-paid jobs, but also people with advanced degrees and decades of experience in their fields, like me.

    In this age of “accountability,” the President should be demanding that highly profitable corporations, where most working poor are employed, be required to pay their workers livable wages: The President should be supporting the maintenance and growth of labor unions, and he should promote tax penalties for companies that outsource to foreign workers.

    Millions of us would like to be able to sleep as comfortably at night as the President seems to be able to do, but we cannot, either because we are struggling just to survive each day, or because we really care about humanity and are very concerned about how inequitable life really is in America. The President needs to demonstrate that he has a conscience and that he is truly committed to ameliorating the human condition.

  • Eileen Workman

    Beautiful! Thank you for saying this so clearly.

  • Mike Phx

    Having a this group write A State of the Union peach is such a great idea. Such a wonderfully concise manner to bring forward a full plan for movement forward. Love this.

  • Old enough to Care

    below , I will say in days past , A nation did speak kindly towards neighbors , We had still a way of simple exchanges between each other for simple goods . , goods as in our basics (needs) our food , supply was never a major threat , In our conscienceless That We are Becoming, there is a primal threat, We as a Nation are having the local feel of that basic security of survival stripped away, . If I took a drive 30 years ago down state rt. roads in the height of summer or harvest season you would be able to stop and purchase . Now the smallest of exchanges that are becoming scarce, by way of availability and by way of (scared) , An incessant turbulence of rules and Laws have been pounded down into society and these simple basic needs are only available at the BIG BOX .. where all items have been scanned .. Human nature to have exchanges have swung to far into being feared , The exchange created a mean-spirited subconscious to surface. There is an evident divide (haves and have not.) Age of innocence it once was. Wont you be my neighbor. You have to fight all the rules and nay Sayers if you just want a little farm now, to just get along, like the good old – days.The basic feeling to be able to survive is threatened .. from the perspective of living WITH THE LAND. that is severely threatened now w/ fracking wells and laws to protect Big Corporate monoliths (gargoyles) . they are not human, and I am. And my God given Right for Harmony with what the (Earth provides the Life We all are given) is threatened.

  • Jackie O’Sullivan

    I am not a militarist, but the trickle down of eliminating the military–save for Coast guard ready-response–would have far-reaching, devastating economic effects on every sector of the economy, including higher education and research, along with eliminating what is for some the only hope of a path to some level of economic stability.Tens of millions of people would be out of work, including civilian support personnel. I thought Ms. Ehrenreich was smarter than this.

  • GavinoV

    When I read this – or any other of the contributors’ contributions – I am reminded of the group of blind men describing an elephant.

    All of these things are worthy, crucial, critical. That, and a $1.25 million contribution will get you a cup of coffee…

    Should, should, should!

    I wanna know HOW, HOW, HOW!

    What, are we to expect Obama to get a sudden case of conscience? I mean, hello!


    We need to be focusing on how to align their interests with ours. Then – like magic – so many of these things will fall into place.

    Don’t believe me? Think about this – History dramatically changed around 1920 for the first time in favor of the welfare of us regular people. And remarkable things happened right thru 1972, despite horrific wars and holocausts, for us regular people. Civil rights, women’s rights, college for virtually all. Livable wages, pensions, more than comfortable retirements – not for all, but for hundreds of millions for whom, in any other age in history (including our own), would be unthinkable.

    What happened?

    I would claim what happened was consumerism, which aligned the interests of the top dogs with ours – having an 8 hour day, disposable income. First time in human history. First time.

    Today, we regular Americans do not matter to the top dogs. They have had workers elsewhere for some time who drastically undercut our wage needs; now they need us as consumers less and less…

    NO I AM NOT SUGGESTING WE BRING BACK MINDLESS CONSUMERISM. I am suggesting that that was an EXAMPLE of what happens when the interests of the top dogs are aligned with our own.

    That alignment – or how to create such an alignment – should be the focus of our energies.

  • Tom Canavan

    Hey Barbara read The Jobs then promote it

  • Are You Kidding Me?

    RUN in 2016! The ‘state of affairs’—won’t abide with only Coast Guard. It’s too toxic to be armed force free. But I applaud the idea of a rapid response force. INFRASTRUCTURE: Who knew in the 80’s sending our workforce overseas would be taken together TODAY with GREED, Corruption, wholesale Neglect of communities and Education, we’re 16th behind in STEM and have only ONE University (Berkeley) offering Energy Engineering as a Major. ALL the new jobs are in ENERGY and most of us are not prepared. CODE Energy Social Advocacy Languages and SPACE Exploration THIS knowledge and conversation should begin in Kindergarten and continue through Senior year in EVERY School Here! By state of affairs I mean we no longer tolerate BACK/FUND drugs guns selling of boys and girls for sex & other nation’s civil wars and OUR youth & adults out of work. THEN we can be an intellectually curious Nation again.

  • Bert Bowers

    What we now spend on the military would replace and renew our infrastructure and our schools preparing America to once again take the lead instead of lagging behind other countries. We wouldn’t lose jobs, we would simply change our objectives to benefit all of the people.

  • The Rancid Honeytrap

    Oh God. When will people tire of this crap. Ehrenreich and her ilk pre-announce unconditional support for the Democrats in each election cycle and then after sacrificing anything resembling leverage, write these silly Letters to the President and State of the Union addresses where they tell us all the things they want and surely won’t get. This isn’t about progress. It’s about vain, comfortable people phoning it in. These ridiculous people have failed to produce any positive change for 20 years or more. Shut up and go away already.

  • The Rancid Honeytrap

    Yeah, there is nothing like a group of 60-something habitual capitulators who haven’t accomplished squat to point the way forward. Don’t forget to vote Democrat!!!

  • The Rancid Honeytrap

    And his incentive for doing it? Given that any thought?

  • Steve Woodward

    Actually, money spent on “defense” produces only about one-seventh as many jobs as money spent on education or infrastructure. We are “defending” ourselves into bankruptcy.

  • Steve Woodward

    I’m not willing to wait until the ultra-rich “get it”
    Civil rights were not granted from above; they were fought and dearly paid for by poor people.
    The rights of labor were not handed down to us from on high; workers died in the streets fighting for the eight-hour day
    And consumerism did not create wealth; it reflected it.

  • What?

    exporting death is good business?

  • Dino Gorospe

    God forbid, no! Please don’t let him talk about something because he’ll end up doing the exact opposite. Remember his promise of transparency in his government? More whistleblowers have been indicted and thrown in jail under his administration than in previous administrations – combined. Not to mention his government’s unprecedented high rate of denial of FOIA requests. With his track record of going 180, maybe if we can get him to talk about how he is going to help the wealthy…?

  • Tasha

    It starts at the local level guys…. look at your city council… do you know anything about them? Who is your district representative? You want to change something? Start by changing the small people… who do you think they do favors for?

  • Steve

    One of the biggest single problems we have to deal with in this country is EXCESS, EXCESS, EXCESS. We have been and still are being programmed every day by the monopolistic media mavens that we need more of everything that moves their bottom lines forward at everyone else’s expense. As a country we have also over reached by our constant war making and so-called campaign to spread Democracy. We don’t even have true Democracy now in this country. We need to wise up and realize we are all One and there is enough to go around if we plan and execute our priorities wisely.

  • David Rubinson

    Note: This is exactly what JILL STEIN has proposed, and repeated in detail last night. Please access Jill Stein’s commentary: – starts at about 1:56

    Live Show [livestream] Tue Feb 12 2013 08:30:08 PM Live Show [livestream] Tue Feb 12 2013 08:30:08 PMon Green Party of the United States
    on Livestream –