EDITORIAL: Stir-fry Government, Part Seven

Read Part One

China brought 12.4 million people in rural areas above the poverty line in 2016, and there were still 43.35 million people living in poverty at the end of last year.

— From the ‘People’s Daily,’ official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party

I don’t necessarily trust all the information released by our federal government… but neither do I believe it’s all merely propaganda and spin. My assumption is that governments act like individuals do — they lie when they feel the need to protect their egos, and they believe other people’s lies when it’s convenient. Which means, probably 80 percent of government information is reasonably accurate, truthful information.

Maybe even 90 percent?

Same goes for the Chinese Communist Party’s recent press release that claimed that 12.4 million rural Chinese citizens were lifted above the poverty line in 2016, leaving more than 43 million still living in poverty. The article didn’t explain what, exactly, the Chinese “poverty line” might be, but a third party observer — the World Bank — claims that more than 500 million people have been lifted out of extreme poverty, as China’s poverty rate fell from 88 percent in 1981 to 7 percent in 2012, as measured by the percentage of people living on the equivalent of US$1.90 or less per day (calculated in “purchasing price parity” terms.)

Most of the millions in China still living under the poverty line currently live in the rural areas of the country, I gather. How many of those rural areas resemble Pagosa Springs, I have no idea.

500 million Chinese lifted out of extreme poverty is, of course, a larger number than the entire U.S. population (approx. 323 million). Meanwhile, an article in Wikipedia claims that the per capita income in China saw amazing growth between 2000 and 2010 — a five-fold increase from $1,000 to $5,000.

Over on the other side of the Pacific, the poverty rate in the U.S. is a rather different calculation. Our federal poverty line for a family of three is about $7800 per person. But of course poverty depends not only on a family’s income, but also on the prices paid for housing, food, clothing, medical services, transportation, and so on. Other factors may include addiction to drug, gambling, sex… and excessive government expansion?

According to a 2017 article published by the Brookings Institution, the U.S. is not seeing a decline on the number of people living in poverty. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The same article describes the growth of poverty in America:

In 2015, the most recent year for which we have data, 43.1 million people (or 13.5 percent of the population) were poor. Even after years of a sustained economic expansion, that number remains 5.8 million higher than before the recession began in 2007, and 11.5 million more than in 2000.

Poverty in the United States has long been associated with large urban centers or rural communities, where it has historically been most concentrated. As poverty grew in the 2000s, it continued to climb in those places: Both large cities and rural counties experienced an uptick in their poor populations of roughly 20 percent between 2000 and 2015.

But the rapid rise of poverty in the 2000s touched a broad swath of communities across the country, moving well beyond its historic homes. Between 2000 and 2015, the poor population in smaller metropolitan areas grew at double the pace of the urban and rural poor populations, outstripped only by poverty’s growth in the nation’s suburbs. Suburbs in the country’s largest metro areas saw the number of residents living below the poverty line grow by 57 percent between 2000 and 2015.

All together, suburbs accounted for nearly half (48 percent) of the total national increase in the poor population between 2000 and 2015.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article series, my own family developed an addiction to very low-cost meals at the Economy Café in downtown Oakland, CA, back int eh 1960s when I was a child. Our whole family could eat an exotic and satisfying meal for about $1 per capita.

We could watch our meal being prepared, in a matter of minutes, by a pair of Chinese chefs each commanding a large wok. Typically, each dish had a unique sauce, and included a healthful selection of vegetables flavored with a bit of meat, fish or tofu. The four of us sat around a small, circular table, each with a bowl of steamed rice; the dishes were placed in the center of the table and we would reach into the serving dishes with our chopsticks, picking up an individual morsel of vegetable or meat and placing into our rice bowl. As we ate, the cooks were preparing other dishes for other customers, and the smells of the food filled the tiny restaurant.

It was a communal experience unlike any other kind of meal my family ate together.

We had no need for metal utensils. All the ingredients had been cut into bite-size pieces prior to stir-frying. Thickened sauces clung to the morsels, and to our chopsticks. A white ceramic pot of black tea, poured into very small, simple teacups, completed the meal. For desert, we were treated to four simple fortune cookies, barely sweetened, and with a message inside.

It was, for me, not just a meal eaten in a restaurant. It was more like a journey into a foreign country, where maybe life was a bit simpler.

Just as there are many ways to prepare a meal, and to share a meal, I believe there are many ways to build and share a healthy community. Some people in Archuleta County seem to feel that our greatest need, at the moment, is a brand new $20 million jail facility to replace the one that’s been sitting, vacant and abandoned, since the spring of 2015. But as I look around at the “Now Hiring” signs… and as I hear about families living illegally in vehicles, without proper sanitation… and as I drive on roads that are in much worse shape than they were in 1995…

…I wonder if government expansion of local jails and courtrooms is really what we should be focusing on, in 2017.

Is that going to be our solution to the growing poverty in the U.S… to lock people up?

Seems to me, with all the impressive wealth in this community, and with an amazing selection of intelligent, caring people… we could come up with a better solution.

Something simple, and shared? Like a meal eaten with chopsticks?

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Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.