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Published: Sunday, 3/12/2006

Hunger of the working poor

When President Bush swore in the new chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers the other day, he declared that opportunities and challenges alike make this an exciting time.

It's not likely the excitement is felt by the long-term unemployed, or to the more than 25 million Americans who have jobs but whose meager incomes don't keep up with the cost of living, forcing them to choose between eating and paying for other necessities, including medication. Some go to soup kitchens regularly, because food budgets are more flexible than payments for the mortgage, rent, utilities, and medicine.

So now that Edward Lazear, a former fellow at the Hoover Institution, is in his new role as council chairman, maybe he can educate the President about the problems of the working poor.

It's a scandal that in the world's richest nation, working people must go to soup kitchens, and the number is rising. Since 2001, 8 percent more Americans have depended on food banks. These citizens, labeled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as "food insecure" - perceptive folks, those feds - include 9 million children and 3 million senior citizens.

That's according to a study by the largest charitable food-distribution network, America's Second Harvest, which has more than 200 food-bank affiliates nationwide, including here in Toledo.

Some northwest Ohioans who work but are unable to meet their obligations also go to local food pantries for assistance. About a quarter of the 297,000 residents who sought emergency food assistance in 2005 had at least one working person in their household.

The Salvation Army of Northwest Ohio and the Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank - which serves 314 agencies in eight northwest Ohio counties - say the number of hungry residents is rising.

Yet it would be hard to get a glimpse of this reality from Mr. Bush's comments. He likes to brag that the economy has grown 3.5 percent, that 4.7 million new jobs have been added since 2002, and that the unemployment rate is 4.7 percent, the lowest level since the middle of 2001.

Of course, those statistics are important. But from the view of the working poor who must choose between a meal and other basics, the President's self-congratulatory comments are meaningless.

As America's Second Harvest spokesman, Maura Daly, said, it's difficult to imagine that working people at the end of the day must choose whether to eat or pay bills.

It's not only tough to imagine. It's a national disgrace.



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