2011 Annual Report
As our fiscal year draws to a close, we see a disturbing trend of encroaching poverty all but completely ignored by the government. Perhaps the only comparable time in our history would be the early Thirties.
An Historical Perspective
The country was in deep crisis. But the times were also quite different; First and foremost, military spending was the lowest it had been in many years. The Twenties were isolationist—the U.S. minded its own business and chose to build a wall around itself. When FDR took office in 1932, the country was in deep trouble. Many families lived in outdoor camps and shared whatever food they could get. There was mass hunger, if not starvation.
The Roosevelt Administration's New Deal represented an activist government. It initiated measures to lessen the impact of mass unemployment and poverty and coupled it with measures to build up the infrastructure of the country. This was no mere "busy work." This was building much-needed bridges, roads, parks that stand today and have been used and visited for over 75 years.
We put our efforts into building, not destroying. It is interesting to compare today's spending—almost 50% of the budget goes to war and war-related projects—with a budget that concentrates on building to improve the lives of people. It was a completely different era—a completely different mentality.
Today we rejoice when Congress passes a barebones healthcare bill that is to reach the Supreme Court within the next few months. Never mind that Europe put that far behind them and has gone on to confront other issues.
It seems our standards for this country have crashed, that there is a pervasive mentality that if we just "get by," we should be grateful.
We do not accept that premise. The New York City People's Life Fund is dedicated to changing the status quo.
The Year in Review
We are gratified to report that this year we were able to award six $1,000 grants to the following worthy community organizations:
- Action Racket Theatre
- United Community Centers, Inc.
- Picture the Homeless
- The Doula Project
- Emmaus House
These groups are glimmers of hope in an otherwise increasingly worrisome state of affairs. Against the backdrop of foreign policy riddled with the bodies of Middle Eastern peoples and American troops is a creeping virus of poverty in the United States. What seems evident is that unemployment is on the rise and shows little sign of reversing. As of October 27, the national average was 9.1%. Some states are as high as 12%. Nevada tops the list at 13.4%. These figures in no way account for those who have stopped looking for work, those who are underemployed, or those whose unemployment benefits have run out, and thus are omitted from the statistics. To make matters worse, for several decades, average wages have remained near static as living expenses have risen. Our standard of living has declined.
Congress and the President often refer to domestic economic policy in terms of its ill effect on the middle class. Curiously, the poor are almost never included in this rhetoric. And this is despite the fact that statistics on U.S. poverty statisics are already alarming, and seemingly growing worse. In fact, a recent CNN Money article states that "About 48.2 million people are now considered in poverty, 2.6 million more than last year." Clearly the trend is for today's middle class to descend into poverty. And what about those already living in poverty? Congress lacks the will to enact measures that will truly help those who are ailing.
Looking back to history, the New Deal that we need right now might very well be embodied in Roosevelt's proposed second Bill of Rights, introduced to the United States during his January 11, 1944 State of the Union Address. This "Economic Bill of Rights" was a veritable wish list that would fulfill many dreams we now have, including:
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
- The right of every family to a decent home
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
- The right to a good education.
A Call to Action
Unfortunately, Roosevelt did not live to see his proposal through. He died April 12, 1945, little more than a year after his proposal. It seems that we, with renewed vigor, must demand these bare minimums and accept no less from our government.
Until such times, we must continue to work at the local level. And this is the work of the Life Fund. Clearly, when people are hurting, fundraising is especially difficult. Times are undeniably hard. Your sustained support to the Fund, no matter how small, can make a real difference in the impact we can have in the New York City community.