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Weak Economy Hurting American Indian Families

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The shift in the American economy is edging toward the obvious. The working sectors that supported manufacturing are left hanging out to dry, as "American" companies scramble to employ cheaply and without much environmental concern in countries from Mexico to India to China.

The point is that now that they are no longer needed, American jobs, meaning American working people are increasingly becoming expendable.

In the midst of the wealthiest country on Earth, poverty keeps rising. According to the U.S. Census Bureau the number of Americans living in poverty is now 35.9 million, up 1.3 million from last year, while people without health insurance rose to 45 million. It was the third straight annual increase in both areas. Democrats now can claim that five million have lost health insurance over the past five years. These are serious losses, reflecting only the tip of the iceberg of growing anxiety about where America's economic values are heading.

There is fear of the international situation; there is great anxiety among many families about the state of an economy that grows strong while reducing jobs and pay scales. In Iraq, more and more die for an occupation process that grows more violent, unstable and complicated by the week. What the wiser group of GOP heads avoided under Bush the father, namely the occupation of Iraq, knowing full well the political and military costs would be long-term and unbearable, the younger generation from Texas went off in a cavalry charge into the sandy quagmire of Arabia. The perception is spreading among many Americans, perhaps too late for this election, that after all, the Iraq war was unnecessary and avoidable. The steep cost will likely become unbearable as that realization grows. And, what can be the support, ultimately, for a president who sends soldiers to war unnecessarily?

International turmoil can also churn domestic anxiety. Economically, the country is out of step, in huge debt, paying through enormous sums to a mammoth military budget that saps the vitality out of economic life. Household incomes are down for a third straight year. Low pay, low benefit jobs, diminishing scale is the name of the new economy. Nationally, this is one of the issues that actually matters to the American people. It matters greatly to Indian communities, just now barely reconstructing from over a century of theft and misappropriation and bureaucratic mismanagement.

Rising poverty and stagnant economic waters still plague most of Indian country. The new census data tells us that an average of 23 percent of single-race Native families live in poverty. That Indian rate is almost twice the national average of 12 percent.

Income levels stayed flat nationwide. "The median income over the past three years for single-race Native households was $33,024, a drop of 1.6 percent. Nationally, income levels fell 0.6 percent to a median of $43,527."

These statistics are contained in a new report "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2003." They reflect a troubling picture. Nearly 28 percent of single-race American Indians and Alaska Natives are without any health insurance at the present time. This rate is almost twice the national average of 15.1 percent.

The national doubt about the economy comes from both conservatives and liberals. It focuses on the huge debt the present administration has generated. Wrote Nelson P. Valdes (July 21, The Worst That Can Happen, "Rebelion"): "The United States has the greatest economy in the world; its Gross Domestic Product is slightly more than $13 trillion dollars" ... yet ... "The accumulated total United States federal and state debt is $7.2 trillion. Since September of 2003 the U.S. debt grew $1.7 billion per day. This means that the debts of the federal and state governments represent $24,619.86 per capita. (The GDP per capita is $37, 800). Consequently, the accumulated federal debt represents 65 percent of the mean national income."

These numbers should be taken seriously. Corporate sectors are often protected, but not the workers. Consider the oil industry as a whole. Here is a sector that has consistently manipulated and eviscerated the American consumer and the American people time and time again. America's reliance on the oil economy as blind faith is decided by the very people who now drive the oil economy.

John Kerry has many important issues to raise, not the least of which is the state of the economy for working Americans. He has been right to cite higher costs for gasoline, college tuition, health insurance and prescription drugs, along with "dramatic and startling" new figures on declining wages and several other negative economic indicators.

With only six weeks left before the election, the presidential campaign is sorely in need of focus on both international and economic security issues.