Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 2, 2012

Fred Goldenberg: Pull on rope together

BY FRED GOLDENBERG
Local columnist

— 'The New Colossus" is a sonnet by Emma Lazarus (1849-87), written in 1883 and, in 1903, engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

In this very troubling partisan time we live in I wanted us to reread this poem just to try to remember what made this country great. I suspect that there isn't a single individual reading this who didn't have at least one great-grandparent enter this country without passing under the gaze of the Lady in the Harbor.

What I find most troubling is that where we once opened our doors to the "huddled masses," today we are willing to slam that door on those who aren't crossing oceans to get here, but live next door or across the street.

The Census Bureau recently released updated figures relating to poverty utilizing new methodology. Taking into account all data including medical costs and work-related expenses, the number of Americans currently living in poverty has climbed to 49.7 million.

Why is it so hard to understand that we have an obligation to lend a hand to those in need, an obligation as a country to care for our elderly, to provide for our children and to give dignity to those who need help?

In November, the country voted. Even many of the dissenting voices agree that the American people have spoken. Loudly, they said that they expect more from their elected officials: more compassion, more understanding and mostly, more realization that those in need of help aren't just "takers," but people whose circumstances are not of their making or choice.

Most troubling in the new data report is that:

n Without Social Security payments, the poverty rate would rise to 54.1 percent of people 65 and older and 24.4 percent for all age groups.

n Without refundable tax credits such as the earned income tax credit, child poverty would rise from 18.1 percent to 24.4 percent

n Without SNAP and Bridge Card programs, the overall poverty rate would increase from 16.1 percent to 17.6 percent.

Once you factor in higher medical costs, such as Medicare Part B and supplemental premiums, plus higher drug costs, poverty levels for those 65 and older nearly double, from the 8.7 percent previously reported to 15.1 percent.

The report also showed that working-class adults ages 18-64 saw an increase in poverty from 13.7 percent to 15.5 percent, largely due to increased gas prices and child care.

The largest increases in poverty were seen in the Hispanic and Asian communities, 28 percent from 25.4 and 16.9 percent from 12.3 percent respectively. African-Americans saw a slight decrease, from 27.8 percent to 25.7 percent. Poverty rose in those classified as white from 9.9 to 11 percent as well.

Utilizing this new method of determining poverty rates and those living in poverty is a vastly more accurate assessment than the formula previously used by the government. That being said, it also points out just how wide the schism between the "haves" and the "have-not's" has become.

As the debate on the Fiscal Cliff rages over the next few weeks or months, I urge our elected representatives to look over the precipice at those who have already fallen over and are struggling mightily to climb back up. It's time to drop a rope over the edge and pull together.

Fred L. Goldenberg is a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) and the owner of Senior Benefit Solutions, LLC, a patient & consumer advocacy and financial services organization in Traverse City. If you have any questions or comments about this article or any other senior issue, he can be reached at 922-1010 or fred@srbenefitsolutions.com.