We know there is hunger in the United States. We know that the virus has made this hunger worse. But rarely, safe for very few of us, think about the persistence of hunger. Photographer Brenda Anne Kenneally did, she grew up in difficult circumstances and right before the virus wanted to photograph the people and places where there is persistent hunger. When it hit in March she just went ahead, because she said, “The situations that define a life of scarcity were becoming democratized.” The NYT published her photographic essay, America at Hunger’s Edge”, while Adrian Nicole LeBlanc wrote an accompanying article summarizing the history of helping the hungry. The point LeBlanc makes is that hunger has been treated as an emergency, as something temporary, not as something systemic, and therefore the causes of hunger have not been addressed. Lineally found that in Houston in 2019 the Mamie George Community Center gave 567,000 pounds of food—understandably a number almost matched from March to July 2020. During the Depression our awareness of hunger started with Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph “Migrant Mother”, a mother whose face is a poignant depiction of hunger with three of her children, a picture which increased popularity for New Deal programs. The Federal Surplus Commodities program grew out of the Depression, but hunger persisted and in the 60’s when it came to the fore led to the beginning of food stamps. The program has undergone several changes, and had led to offshoots with several names, but usually leaves out many of the hungry, or else covers only a portion of the food needs.
We are more and more aware of economic inequalities and their consequences, and looking at hunger as a symptom and in its socioeconomic and political contexts is overdue. The causes are systemic and addressing them falls into the realm of moral imperatives.
The Brookings Institution has a report that plainly says that 44% of the US labor force is low-wage earners. That is 53 million Americans 18-64 whose median wage (the point where as many fall below as are higher) is $10.22 an hour or an annual salary of $17.950. These are staggering statistics. I originally put the article away and yet was so struck by it, the numbers kept coming back. What haunts are the consequences. According to the report there is little chance of these workers being able to go into higher paying jobs. We say we have as near full employment as we’ve had in the last 5 decades, but what does it mean when almost half the workforce can’t earn enough and can’t have access to upward mobility? These statistics open so many questions in a consumer driven economy. Since a recession is part of our future, won’t these workers be the first to bear the brunt? We speak of how politically divided we are. And that may be, but there are other divisions that are far more immediate to the well-being of citizens, economic equality for one. On a practical level, it’s not or ought not to be, difficult to imagine the hardships of living with so little money. When you’re struggling to that extent, it would seem that voting or participation in politics is not likely to be among your priorities. Are these workers part of the growing number of working homeless, often families? And too what about the children? What kind of neighborhoods are they living in, what kind of schools? What does it mean for their future and the future of the nation? Perhaps even more to the point where’s the outrage when nearly half of our working force are low wage earners?
Crystals are now part of a billion dollar industry. They are in demand by many New Age followers and others who believe in their power, usually healing power. But most of the crystals commercially available to us come from one of the world’s poorest countries, Madagascar, which is rich in several of those which are in demand. The miners, without whom those crystals would not end up in the hands or homes of those who believe in them, live in dire and abject poverty. A writer for The Guardian shadowed them for a period of time to have a better understanding of not only how much they are exploited, but also of the harsh conditions they end up having no choice to live under. And a picture of this situation would be remiss in not mentioning that child labor is part of this system. One way to encapsulate the problem would be to say that a piece of quartz which may well sell for say a $1000 was perhaps bought for something like at most $10. The beneficiaries of this difference are the big corporations which act as middlemen. And according to the Guardian’s expose there is little evidence that the corporations making up the industry are willing to make changes. We know about blood diamonds, we know about the exploitation of many in several industries, we ought to know about the exploitation behind our use of crystals. The consumers who buy and use crystals, certainly those I know, think of themselves as conscious, as people with integrity who believe in human rights. They may now be faced with a reality as to whether their values are real or merely given lip service and also with a decision along with the rest of us—to continue and be blind to the consequences of these facts, or to take action that will work toward ending the exploitation and the dire poverty of the miners.
About two thirds of the world’s population, 5.1 billion do not have access to justice. Of these, 1.5 billion or one in five, have been left with justice issues they are not able to solve. That could be a land dispute, being the victim of a crime or a consumer debt. These figures come from a new report issued by The Task Force on Justice. The report indicates that 253 million people live with extreme injustice and are deprived of legal protections. They comprise 40 million modern day slaves, 12 million stateless, 200 million who live in countries which are so insecure seeking any kind of justice is not possible. The report points out not only the advantages of providing justice but also the fact that as a human right along with education and health care, it is actually cheaper. In low income countries, where most of the lack to access to justice exists, it costs $20 per person, universal primary and secondary education $41 and healthcare at least $76. These figures would certainly increase for the developed world, but the message that providing justice to those who need it is cheaper than we think remains.
It’s so easy to
forget that providing justice is part of the infrastructure of security in any
country, and that infrastructure is necessary for prosperity, a prosperity
which in turn provides citizens with a modicum of quality of life.