Fast Disasters and Slow Disasters

by Rich Rubenstein on May 26, 2011 · 0 comments

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I heard a Republican congressman talking on the radio this morning.  He was asked whether Congress would foot the very large bill needed to provide the inhabitants of Joplin, Missouri and other towns stricken by tornadoes with disaster relief.  “Of course,” he replied.  “We must be good stewards of the people’s money, but we have to respond to this disaster.”

Interesting.  The victims of tornadoes certainly deserve both our sympathy and public assistance.  But, year after year and generation after generation, poor communities throughout America are ravaged by violent crime, drugs, homelessness, unemployment, suicide, and soaring disease rates.  Of all the industrial nations, the US is the most wretched when it comes to caring for the growing number of impoverished residents.  Yet neither Republicans nor Democrats recognize this slow disaster as a situation demanding the same attention and remedial action as the fast disaster of a tornado or flood.

Why this difference when the effects of poverty are, if anything, MORE devastating over several generations than the effects of natural disasters?  The reason must be that tornadoes are considered “acts of God,” while poverty is considered the fault of the poor.  What a joke!  In fact, there is little one can do about natural catastrophes other than try to prepare to deal with them and compensate the victims, while there are all sorts of things we can do to end persistent poverty and “precarity” — the imminent danger of poverty that afflicts tens of millions of working people in America.

For one alleged reason or another, the slow disasters that kill and maim our impoverished brothers and sisters get shoved to the curb, while we open our hearts and pockets to the victims of fast disasters.  Meanwhile, another generation of poor people gets shot up, locked up, or locked out of the American dream. Isn’t it time for us to grow up, remember all those victimized by an unjust, elitist social system, and get about the business of eliminating persistent poverty?

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