Published on Saturday, November 26, 2005 by OneWorld.net
Post-Katrina Poll Finds Americans Prioritizing Poverty over Terrorism
by Haider Rizvi
NEW YORK - It's the growing rate of poverty in the United States--not Washington's global war on terrorism--that most people of color are concerned about, according to a new nationwide opinion poll conducted by an independent civil rights group.
The multilingual survey suggests that a vast majority of Blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans strongly believe that ending poverty should be on top of the government's agenda, not fighting wars in foreign lands, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Those who considered tackling poverty to be the country's number one priority included 58 percent of Blacks, 43 percent of Hispanics, 38 percent of Asians and 36 percent of non-Hispanic Whites, according to the poll results.
Pollsters believe that the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina and the painful images of hopelessness and suffering of the victims have made a large impact on many Americans.
"I don't remember poverty ever finishing as the number one priority on any kind of list," says Sergio Bendixen, who runs Bendixen and Associates, the private firm that conducted the polls for New California Media (NCM), a group representing more than 700 ethnic media organizations.
NCM says the poll was focused on gauging Katrina's impact on public opinion on four national issues: the eradication of poverty in the United States, racial discrimination, the environment and climate change, and the government's ability to deal with catastrophic events.
The results were released in Washington last week at a briefing cosponsored by NCM, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the Center for American Progress.
Pollsters say that the largest portion of respondents from all four major ethnic and racial groups agreed that the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast and the official share of rebuilding efforts should be financed by "getting our troops out of Iraq as soon as possible."
They included 77 percent of Blacks, 69 percent of Hispanics, and 60 percent of Asians, as well as a plurality of non-Hispanic Whites. The respondents endorsed the strategy of withdrawal over "raising taxes," "cutting government funding for health and education programs," and "borrowing more money from foreign countries."
The poll, entitled "Lessons of Katrina: America's Major National and Ethnic Groups Find Common Ground After the Storm," is based on interviews with 1035 people in Spanish, English, Korean, Vietnamese, Cantonese, and Mandarin.
Pre-Katrina studies show that the Latino and Black populations in the United States, the largest minorities with 37 and 36 million people, respectively, continue to suffer from economic hardships. (SOURCE IF NEEDED: PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE OF CALIFORNIA).
According to official figures from the Census Bureau, about 33 million U.S. residents live below the poverty line, including women, children, and the elderly who are most likely to suffer from hunger. Currently, the U.S. government is spending around $400 billion a year on defense, while allocating only $16 billion to welfare.
The outcome of debates in Washington over the next fiscal year's budgetary allocations has left no sign of hope for the poor. The administration is rather making it harder for the poor to qualify for the Food Stamp Program, for example.
A budget-reducing bill that passed the House of Representatives suggests that in the next five years cuts would remove childcare subsidies for more than 300,000 low-income working families as well.
Moreover, the Bush administration is proposing changes in its budgetary policy that would reduce Medicaid by nearly $30 billion over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
Though mindful that the current administration's economic policy would further hurt the poor, activists fighting for economic and social justice appear to be pleased with the results of the NCM polls.
"Americans seem genuinely to want something done about poverty in this nation," says Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, who thinks that dramatic images of tens of thousands of poor families "might have changed the American perception on poverty."
But Henderson is not yet convinced that these perceptions will last.
"It remains to be seen whether this view will be fleeting and episodic, or whether it represents a real watershed of public opinion," he cautioned
On how minorities responded to the pollsters' questions in the wake of the Katrina tragedy, Henderson's colleague Karen Lawson reflects in a different way.
"We have the chance to address the issues of poverty and racial isolation," she says. "But that opportunity exists only if we work to take advantage of it."
"We cannot let the history of Katrina be that for a few days America seemed to care about poor people, but we lacked the staying power to make a difference in their lives and the lives of their children."
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