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The Nouveau Poor vs. The Already Poor: Recessionomics and Class

Many of us are feeling the pinch from the current economic climate, or know someone who is. While it has been said that the recession may act as a great leveler, bringing people of different means closer as we all experience the uncertainties of this time. This may be true on some level, but does that mean we all are taking a step down towards a base level of poverty which is remaining constant? Not so, says a comprehensive op-ed about the already-poor who are disproportionately affected by the recession, written by Barbara Ehrenreich, author of "Nickled and Dimed."

"The Recession" as most of us know it is just beginning, but for the 20-30% of people who were already barely employed, housed, and fed, there is just a long downward slope towards what Ehrenreich says may be a level of destitution we normally associate with developing countries.

What are the stations between poverty and destitution? Like the Nouveau Poor, the already poor descend through a series of deprivations, though these are less likely to involve forgone vacations than missed meals and medications. The Times reported earlier this month that one-third of Americans can no longer afford to comply with their prescriptions.

Since some of these folks were already making use of supports like shelters and soup kitchens, they must now elbow for a place at the table with the "new poor." In rural communities, reports the Wasted Food blog, people are turning to "food auctions," where they can buy groceries past their sell-by dates. As a commenter points out, these goods might have ended up as free food pantry items if there weren't a market for off-price goods. The point is, the face of poverty is changing, and with it, the rules. No better example is there of this than a New York City condo, empty from fluctuations in the housing market, being opened to the homeless.

The boom times in the 90s were a hard time to be poor because no one was thinking about poverty; now, everyone's personal problems seem to have kicked up a notch and it's harder to think about others' needs. Our economy is undergoing major changes, some of them long needed, but perhaps one of the most frightening ideas is that there is no static bottom to hit.

The most important message from the article might be: we're all in this together, some of us more than others.
Next time you're at the store, pick up some staples for your local food pantry or volunteer your time.

More on the homeless: Homelessness and the Environment

Tags: Class, Homeless, Housing, Poverty, Recession, Volunteer

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