We live in in perhaps the wealthiest and most influential country in the history of civilization.
So it should trouble us all when a study released earlier this month by the organization Feeding America revealed that 22.7 percent of Hoosier children — an estimated 358,000 — don’t know where their next meal will come from. In Miami and Starke counties, the statistics are even more troubling with 26.9 percent of children on the verge of hunger.
Why is this happening?
A new report by the Federal Reserve shows that between 2007 and 2010 — a period spanning the final two years of George W. Bush's term and Barack Obama's first two years in office — American family median net worth declined by 40 percent. The last time we saw such a fall was during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Median net worth dropped from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010. Overall, median net worth fell 38.8 percent, and the mean fell 14.7 percent. The median income for all American families fell 7.7 percent.
American families are getting hammered. They are seeing their home values decline. A home I own in Broad Ripple is now worth $30,000 less than what I paid for it in 2005.
The Fed said in its Survey of Consumer Finances: “Although declines in the values of financial assets or business were important factors for some families, the decreases in median net worth appear to have been driven most strongly by a broad collapse in house prices.”
Here’s another stunning statistic: While the FBI’s Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report for 2011 showed violent crime had declined nationwide by 4 percent, in small towns with populations under 10,000, the murder rate jumped 18.3 percent.
The number of homeless U.S. military veterans in Indianapolis surged by 34 percent. These are the people who served their country and have been discarded onto the mean streets.
On June 30, the Regional Bus Authority in Lake County will be on the verge of suspending public transit serving Hammond and East Chicago. While the percentage of people living below the poverty level in Indiana is 13.5 percent, in Hammond it is 14.3 percent and in East Chicago it is 33.1 percent. The question that should be asked is: How are these people going to a job or the doctor’s office once bus service is cut?
In 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 43.8 percent of Hoosier children were born out of wedlock, compared to 5.4 percent at the end of the baby boom in 1964. Some 39.4 percent of single mothers with children are poor compared with 6.1 percent of married couples with children.
It prompted the Heritage Foundation to observe, “Marriage is a highly effective institution which greatly decreases parental and child poverty while improving long-term outcomes for children. Conversely, the absence of marriage greatly increases welfare costs and imposes added burdens on taxpayers.”
In 2010, the rate of teen births was 37.3 per 1,000 population, compared with 34.3 for the U.S. average. The Indiana infant mortality rate per 1,000 stood at 7.8 percent, compared with 6.8 percent nationally.
Finally, the Pew Research Center reported last week that as Americans head to the polls in November, their values and basic beliefs are more polarized along partisan lines than at any point in the past 25 years. Unlike in 1987, when Pew began the series of surveys, the values gap between Republicans and Democrats is now greater than gender, age, race or class divides.
The average partisan gap has nearly doubled over this 25-year period, from 10 percentage points in 1987 to 18 percentage points in the new study. Nearly all of the increases have occurred during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. During this period, both parties’ bases have often been critical of their parties for not standing up for their traditional positions. Currently, 71 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of Democrats say their parties have not done a good job in this regard.
In January 2009, I observed: The crisis we face today is a financial World War II. We've never been here before, and it will take trial and error to find a way out.
After U.S. Rep. Mike Pence invited Obama to meet with House Republicans in January 2009, the president said, “The main message I have is that the statistics every day underscore the urgency of the economic situation. The American people expect action. They want us to put together a recovery package that puts people back to work, that creates investments that assure our long-term energy independence, an effective health care system, an education system that works; they want our infrastructure rebuilt, and they want it done wisely, so that we’re not wasting taxpayer money.”
But it didn’t happen. All we saw were party-line votes, with an eye on the next election. So here we are more than three years later, the Indiana jobless rate stands at 7.9 percent, the U.S. rate at 8.2 percent. Scores more are underemployed.
By any standard, by any measure, our leaders in both major parties are failing us.
Brian Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @hwypol. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's.