Families, devalued

Less than a week before our historic presidential election, a growing number of American families are more concerned about where they will sleep tonight than with who will move into the White House in January.

Before the downturn, 59 percent of American workers with children under the age of six were living from paycheck to paycheck, and 37 million Americans were living in poverty. That’s about one in ten people across the country, a figure that rises to one in seven in LA County. The numbers today are certainly higher.

On Monday, the Downtown News reported that demand for help at LA’s downtown homeless shelters is soaring, while support for those services is shrinking. Most alarming is the increase in families seeking emergency shelter.

At the Union Rescue Mission, which serves more than 700,000 meals a year and can accommodate 1,000 people a night, an entire floor that was formerly used by volunteers has been given over to families, according to Andy Bales, the mission’s CEO. “We're actually increasing our services because of the need, and that's compounding our challenge,” Bales told the News. “We've been doing a lot of praying and stretching of resources.”

The News story continues:

Gregory C. Scott, president and CEO of the Weingart Center, said individual donations are down about 15-20% at the organization that houses about 600 homeless residents and helps 2,500 people annually find jobs. Scott said a program to help people find permanent homes will be canceled in December and City Live, a fundraising event scheduled for November that has been going for 17 years, was canceled due to lack of sponsor support.

“A lot of the companies that usually sponsor us were just not able to pull out those donations this year, and it's a ripple effect," he said. "The people we do get donations from are donating less because the economy has affected them as well, and because the economy has become the way it is, the need for our service increases, but we have less resources.”

Nearly three in four of California’s low-income working families pour more than a third of their income into housing costs, according to a report by the non-profit Working Poor Families Project released earlier this month. The Golden State ranks among the bottom four states in terms of housing affordability nationwide. That report is based on statistics compiled through 2006. Without a doubt many of those struggling families are now among those facing homelessness.

Yet the concerns of the growing ranks of the poor—for safe and affordable housing, for access to health care, food, transportation, education and adequate pay for thankless work – remain remarkably absent from the presidential campaigns.

It’s not for lack of trying. According to the Buffalo News, “the ONE organization, co-founded by Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2, said that it sent an Internet petition signed by 122,000 people to moderator Tom Brokaw of NBC, asking him to pose one question about poverty during the Oct. 7 debate. Brokaw did not raise any questions about poverty.”

In September, the Marguerite Casey Foundation hosted a tri-city convention, which drew 15,000 low-income Americans to gatherings in Los Angeles, Chicago and Birmingham Alabama (full disclosure: I’ve done some writing for them, both because I have my own family to feed and because I endorse their family-empowerment approach).

The families talked about their hard work and sacrifices to put food on the table, keep their kids in school, hold down multiple jobs and keep a roof over their heads. Most of all they worried about their kids – about their health and safety and education. They appealed to the government to join them in ensuring their children’s futures. The event was ignored by the dunder-headed LA Times and Daily News, though both the Huffington Post and New America Media provided good coverage.

In an article in the July/August issue of Harvard Magazine entitled "Unequal America: Causes and consequences of the wide -- and growing-- gap between rich and poor," writer Elizabeth Gudrais cites a study that found that "by the time the election comes around, the only candidates left in the race are those who've shaped their platforms to maximize fundraising: poor voters have already been left out."

Working families are filling our shelters and struggling to feed their children. What will to take for us to stop ignoring them?

More by Sara Catania:
Recently on Native Intelligence
New at LA Observed