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United States : Poor in the land of the rich

Terrifying numbers: Almost one in seven in the United States is poor. In times of economic crisis, tables and soup kitchens are more necessary than ever, even in Silicon Valley. The US has a reputation to lose. The “land of plenty” sees more and more poor, homeless and hungry children. According to the latest figures, poverty in the land of plenty rose last year to 13.2 percent, the highest level in eleven years. In 2008, 39.8 million Americans were affected, reports the Federal Statistical Office.

23-year-old Gloria Navarro is one of these statistics. When the end of the month approaches, she cooks rice and beans - like her mother, who left the war and crisis-torn El Salvador 25 years ago and came to the USA. Gloria grew up in California, graduated from high school, and until recently had only heard of hunger. But at the beginning of the year her husband Raymundo lost his job as a driver for an IT company. Gloria's income of $ 10.50 an hour as a clerk alone is not enough for a family of five. Suddenly she belongs to those for whom a meal is no longer a matter of course. Around 35 million US citizens are familiar with this "food insecurity," a term invented by the bureaucrats of the Bush administration.

According to statisticians, anyone who earns less than 50 percent of the average income is considered poor. For a family of four, the poverty line is $ 22,025. For individuals, the sum of $ 10,991 applies. Poverty rose most noticeably among Hispanics, migrants from Latin America who now constitute the largest minority in California. If it weren't for the aid organization Second Harvest, the three Navarros children between the ages of 18 months and five years would have neither eggs, vegetables nor fruit on their plates. "From the third week the household budget is empty, then all that remains is to go to the table," says Gloria.

Poppy Pembroke, Second Harvest's communications director, knows these issues all too well. Even in Silicon Valley, the high-tech Mecca with its high concentration of millionaires and billionaires, more and more people are finding their way to a “food bank”. “The recession is having a terrible effect on the local population because not all of them are well-paid techies, but simple people,” says Pembroke. His organization currently provides food to around 207,000 people a month in the Santa Clara County, which includes Silicon Valley. This makes the non-profit organization the seventh largest “food bank” in the country. Last year it delivered around 18 tons of food to 316 distribution centers.

The recipients include both the unemployed - Silicon Valley has one of the highest unemployment rates in the United States at 11.8 percent - and the homeless. Quite a few lost their homes as a result of the real estate crisis. Or they are among the 46 million Americans with no health insurance who fell into debt so bad through illness that they filed for bankruptcy. According to estimates, around 50,000 jobs have been lost in Silicon Valley in the past six months - at Internet giants such as Yahoo and Google, but also at countless start-ups. Around 20 percent of the office space is currently vacant. At the same time, requests for food aid shot up by 60 percent in the past twelve months, social assistance by around 30 percent and private bankruptcy declarations by 59 percent.

The InnVision center in the south of the Valley, in close proximity to the high-tech giants, looks after 24,000 people in need every year. InnVision is a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, career counseling and medical contact point in one. Most of those seeking help are women and children. For the latter, homelessness is particularly dramatic. Experts estimate that a quarter of today's homeless children end up in the same impasse as their parents.

InnVision is aware of the proximity to the enormous wealth and knows how to tap into it. The big prize of a raffle, explains director Christine Burroughs, was recently a villa worth three million dollars. But even among the rich, on whose regular donations the aid organizations depend, the recession is leaving its mark. Two years ago, one percent of American households owned 23.5 percent of all private wealth. Experts estimate that this proportion will drop to 15 to 19 percent by 2010.

The gap between rich and poor does not widen. But at the same time philanthropy suffers, the belief in people who do something good. In the past year, the number of donations from private individuals in excess of $ 1 million has fallen by a third. “When a company makes 20 percent less sales,” explains Second Harvest spokesman Pembroke, “then salaries and bonuses also decrease. And with that, unfortunately, the joy of donations. "

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