It is time for us to recognize that poverty, homelessness, health care, and public education are all civil-liberties issues. The absence of the basic necessities of human life for millions of Americans not only renders moot many of their rights as citizens but is an insuferable blot on the consciousness of a nation laying claim to the ideal of liberty and justice for all.
Poverty. A comprehensive study in late 1992 by Tufts University's Center on Hunger, Poverty, and Nutrition Policy found that approximately 30 million Americans are undernourished; that 6 million people living in poverty receive no food stamps; that 10 million people living in poverty who do receive food stamps are often hungry because the supplementary federal program does not meet their nutritional needs; and that the program does not reach many eligible people. The House Select Committee on Hunger estimates that hunger has grown by 50 percent since the mid, 1980s.
Studies also show that most Americans are literally one paycheck away from being poor. The facts contradict the stereotype of welfare recipients living high on the hog, having innumerable children while collecting state aid. Almost 80 percent of families on welfare have only one or two children and about half work in a given year. (Of course they work! How can anyone seriously believe that $397 per month for a family of two is sufficient, much less too generous?) Why, then, do we stigmatize those who need our help with the necessities of life?
President Clinton's welfare-reform proposal is a step in the right direction toward restoring dignity and opportunity to welfare recipients. But we also need a far greater commitment to dealing with poverty's underlying complications: mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and lack of educational opportunity. We need more and better inner, city programs to help millions of kids without hope.
Our existing systems are …