A Tale of Two Nations…

A pair of newspaper stories, taken together, show a nation drifting apart

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The Washington Post has a pair of stories, each fascinating on its own, on its front page Sunday. But it’s their juxtaposition that’s startling.

The first is Too Much of Too Little: A diet fueled by food stamps is making South Texans obese but leaving them hungry, by Eli Saslow:

Hidalgo County has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation . . . which has led almost 40 percent of residents to enroll in the food-stamp program . . . which means a widespread reliance on cheap, processed foods . . . which results in rates of diabetes and obesity that double the national average . . . which fuels the country’s highest per-capita spending on health care…It is a crisis at the heart of the Washington debate over food stamps, which now help support nearly 1 in 7 Americans. Has the massive growth of a government feeding program solved a problem, or created one?

Just across the page is Washington: A World Apart, by Carol Morello and Ted Mellnik, which details the phenomenal income growth of those living in and around Washington, D.C.  The story begins with a husband and wife who

…work for defense contractors. Their combined income affords them a spacious five-bedroom house with 3.5 baths [in]…a bedroom community midway between Washington and Baltimore where the median household income tops $181,000, more than triple the national average. Washington is an example of how the country is compartmentalizing itself into clusters of people with different backgrounds and world views.

Each story is an alarm bell in its own way. Taken together, they’re a four-alarm fire. The poor are getting sick, thanks to the nation’s taxpayers. Government contractors are getting richer, thanks to the same pot of money. Apparently, it’s the folks in the middle who lose out. According to the second story, the number of American families living in middle-income neighborhoods has shrunk from 65% in 1970 to 42% in 2010. No wonder they feel screwed.