A news called my attention these days: the BBC published an article in its site in Portuguese, informing “In the US, thousands of college students are starving and have no place to sleep.” [Our translation.]
By Alejandro Iturbe.
The article is based on a recent research made by a professor of the Temple University (Philadelphia) together with the Wisconsin Hope Lab. It is considered “the most extense national research on the subject.” To it, they made questionnaires to over 43,000 students in 66 universities located in 20 states (including students from technical courses that ease the access to those universities).
The result was that 6% of the college students had not eaten for at least one day in the month due to lack of money to do so. The number grows to 9% in the pre-university courses. Besides, 36% of the interviewed does not eat enough (although on a daily basis). The causes to it are “the increase of the costs to study, the difficulty to find a part-time job, the lack of adequated assistance, and the “ignorance” on the issue by some institutions.” Appart from the “food insecurity”, the researchers evaluated that many students live a situation of “housing precarity” because they are forced to sleep in inflatable mattresses in colleagues’ rooms, and move frequently.
“In my entire career, I’ve never worked with something so sad,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, research coordinator. She added that most universities just ignore the problem, as they consider that it is the students themselves that or their families that must satisfy these necessities.
Poverty grows in the richest country in the world
The news called my attention but it actually did not surprise me: the US is, without a doubt, the country of greatest capitalist development of the world, on the base of the pillaging of most part of the planet. This development is clearly seen in many regions of those big cities. At the same time, together with the wealth and opulence, the country shows, more acutely each time, the worst consequences of capitalism.
Years ago, I had the chance to go to the US to participate in activities of a socialist organization from there. I had some contact with cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Back then, it shocked me the number of people begging in the streets, saying “some change for a coffee.”
They were homeless. Municipal governments had suspended or reduced the funds destined to shelters where homeless people can eat, sleep, take a bath and cut their hair. Many of those shelters were closed and those who received help there were forced to live in abandoned buildings, completely insecure, or under the bridges, begging to eat.
From then on, there have been several new “waves” of homeless from the working class and even the middle class ruined by the crisis. They made true “homeless’ neighborhoods”, like Row Kid in the historical center of Los Angeles, where 13,000 people live. To worsen their situation, they suffer the blows of companies like Urbanitas, that want to “clean” the region to develop real-estate projects with major profits – a process that takes place in several cities in the world, called “gentrification”.
The workers’ reality
In 2017, statistics showed that over 13% of the country’s population lived under the line of poverty (23,000 dollars annually for a 4-people family). We are talking about almost 41 million people, but the percentage is higher in black and latinos communities.
It is necessary to point out that the poverty rate is more than three times the percentage of unemployment for the same year (which had reduced to a bit more than 4%). For millions of families, to have a stable job and wage is not enough to not be poor. This is the consequence of a great part of the jobs created over the last few years paying the minimum wage, established at $7,25 per hour nationally. It is lower in some states ($5,25) and higher is others (in California, it is $10).
If we consider the minimum wage and multiply it by 170 or 180 hours, we have an average monthly wage of something between $1,232 and $1,305, and a yearly wage of between $14,790 and $15,660 – several thousands of dollars under the line of poverty. This is the reason why millions of workers from the services sector (like supermarkets and fast-food chains), as well as from the agribusiness sector, are fighting for a $15 dollars minimum.
There are other expressions of the US bourgeoisie voracity for profit at the expense of workers: the health system in the country is the most expensive one of the world, because of the high cost of medication, studies and treatments. Even in a “public” hospital, an appointment and a blood test can cost up to $700, and an RX can cost up to $300. If you have the misfortune of having to stay inpatient for a minor surgery (like appendicitis), the procedure, the studies and the cost of a 5-day post-procedure can reach $30,000. The more complex procedures and medical assistance are much more expensive. If a working family does not have medical insurance (or the insurance does not cover the procedures), it will generate a major debt and risk losing their few goods.
The same thing happens with college studies, currently almost indispensable to get a job with a little better wage. To study in an average university costs thousands of dollars a year – not to talk about the most prestigious universities. Many workers’ families sacrifice and save money since the birth of their children so they can access this level of education and have a better life. Many times they are forced to choose which one of their children will study because the money is not enough for all of them to do so.
Life is really harsh for workers in the richest country of the planet, too. It is not enough to have the will of studying and grow; the money saved through a sacrifice of years is also not enough because the cost of college education and additional costs when studying increases systematically. As a result, thousands of college students, sons and daughters of working families, suffer from hunger and live precariously.
The American Dream…?
Capitalist publicists try to sell us that the US is “the land of the thousand opportunities,” where you can live the “American dream,” no matter the social origin; through work, effort and dedication, it is possible to constantly improve in life.
The truth is that such “American dream” has been dead for a long time. This is acknowledged even by analysts from the core of imperialism. Robert Putnam is a professor at the Harvard University and he was the advisor of three presidents (Clinton, Bush and Obama). In his last book, Our Kids, he analyses that this dream is currently out of reach of each time more families, because of the growing increase of social inequality, as a result of several decades of decline of jobs and wages. And this expresses in all aspects, including the amount and quality of the education they can access – and with it, the possibility of social ascension.
Everything that Putnam analyses without disguising it has a name: consequences of capitalism. Even in the richest country on Earth, to each time more working families the American Dream is, today, a nightmare.