Jul 25, 2010

Poverty in the U.S. versus Poverty in Medellín

What exactly is poverty? Technically, it depends where you are. In third world countries, poverty could mean lacking basic necessities in life such as water, food, clothing, etc. In advanced and industrialized countries, does it mean the same thing? Or is poverty more relative?

In the past four weeks, and all at different times, I had three Cogestores from the program Medellín Solidaria ask me, while we were on the field, if poverty in the U.S. was the same. I was very surprised. I said no immediately. After all, we were passing houses made of only wood, sometimes with a roof mad out of a plastic or held down with bricks. Many of these houses had no windows, sidewalks, or even a road for that matter. In quite a few of my visits, I noticed that there was no cement floor; the houses were built on bare rock and dirt. (See picture below: Newspaper clippings cover up the cracks through a wooden house)...

I told the Cogestores “no” even though I had rarely been to areas of extreme poverty in the U.S. (if ever). Since I come from a middle-class background and suburbia, I rarely had a reason to go into areas that were poor. Nonetheless, I assumed that in the U.S. the worst of poverty was not as bad as some of the areas I visited. I hoped I was right. I did a little bit of research and found this:

“The 2000 Census indicates that 73% of U.S. poor own automobiles, 76% have air conditioning, 97% own refrigerators, 62% have cable or satellite TV, and 73% have microwaves.”*

“On average a poor person in this country lives in a home with 1228 square feet which they often own, and as noted the home is likely air conditioned, with a refrigerator, cable or satellite TV, a microwave not to mention many other comforts.”*

I could not find one area in the U.S. as poor as I have seen many places in Medellín. After reading this post to Tamera, my advisor, she told me in fact there were places in the U.S. that lack clean water and other basic necessities. This is sometimes common with illegal immigrants (I will do some research and post an addendum). But let’s think about this. It is plausibly true that the poorest of the poor in our country is nowhere near as poor as in Medellín, or in most other countries as well.

I find that to be absolutely mind-blowing. Poverty in America is nowhere near the numbers or quality as it is in Medellín? This makes me very sad. If our country is so “lucky and privileged and wealthy” (cringing as I say this right now) as some say, I truly hope that we can assist the other areas in the world in becoming sustainable and financially independent. It’s hard to imagine this inequity exists so close to home.

* Wikipedia Information, 2010