Toledo Blade, June 10, 2008: Spending on essentials

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President Bush had hoped that Americans would spend the ‘economic stimulus’ checks to invigorate the economy

FOR those Americans squeezed mercilessly by the recession, economic life is tough and becoming tougher.

Although the “economic stimulus” checks that citizens are receiving from the federal government are helpful, few are spending the money on nonessentials as President Bush had hoped they would to invigorate the economy. Instead, the windfall is going for necessities: food, gasoline, the mortgage or rent, and to pay down debt in an attempt to ward off even deeper financial disaster.

This is the start of the vacation season, but poring over glossy vacation brochures is less a priority, especially if the intent was to travel by car. With the cost of gasoline at $4 a gallon and food prices rising, ordinary people are struggling just to afford food and to buy fuel to go to work, assuming they have jobs.

The need for basic necessities has pushed more Ohioans than ever into poverty. According to a study titled “The Real Bottom Line: The State of Poverty in Ohio 2008,” 13.3 percent of 11.5 million residents live below the poverty line. Not surprisingly, the Appalachian region in southern and southeast Ohio has the highest rate of poverty at 19 percent. And sadly, Lucas County outpaces the state’s other large urban counties with a 17.5 percent poverty rate.

Though these findings are based on research data up to three years old, the economy has worsened in the meantime. Now, more Ohioans are impoverished than before the “War on Poverty” began in the mid-1960s.

And that is not because people are not working. Roberta Garber, executive director of Community Research Partners, who did the study for the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, said, “Somebody can be in a job making $10 an hour and if they work full time, they will still be below the poverty line.”

That’s why more Ohioans – and other Americans – have signed up for food stamps. The Buckeye state has 1.1 million food stamp recipients, almost twice as many as in 2001. In Michigan, 1.25 million residents get food stamps. That’s more than twice as many as in 2000.

Is reckless living to blame? There may be some of that, but it’s hardly the main reason. In this region, the auto industry continues to slash jobs, and that has contributed to a lagging economy. Add that to the rising cost of living, fueled by high gas prices, and no wonder citizens have been forced to ask for help.

So, sorry, Mr. President. The economic climate – created by your policies over the last eight years – isn’t encouraging Americans to flock to retailers to buy big-screen TVs or fancy barbecue grills.

A check for $1,200 is nice, but food, fuel, and other essentials have to come first.

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