Crossing the Median

Down the block from my house, Euclid Avenue stretches from its southern extremity below Ontario north through Upland and into the foothills of the Angeles National Forest.  Two lanes of traffic flow in both directions, separated by a wide, tree lined median.  Residents can be seen any time of day walking up and down this strip, taking in the air, getting some exercise, perhaps giving their dog some exercise as well.  It may be one of the prettiest streets in America and in general traffic doesn’t cross the median, using instead the regularly spaced streets.

The median as a mathematical term is often applied to various measures of America’s population, sometimes denoting a change in one’s status (i.e. the sociological term upward mobility denoting an improved living standard).  The Census Bureau recently reported the median annual income in the U.S. in 2010 was $49,445.  In other words, half of our nation’s households make that (or more) while half make less.  A family of four making $22,113 or less are considered impoverished.  I mention this because in 2010, for the third year in a row, the number of people whose incomes place them below this poverty threshold has increased.  As last year ended, 15.1% of our population, some 46.2 million people, lived in poverty, the highest level seen in the 52 years over which the Bureau has been compiling this statistic.

With 2011 getting a bit long in the tooth, it is hard to see how this number could have made any substantial improvement.  The unemployment rate has hovered close or above 9% for over two years; it remains stubbornly high, even increasing with the latest monthly report.  At the same time, hourly wages have actually declined, even as inflation continues to reduce spending power.  With solutions becoming harder to find and political debate seemingly intractable, this may prove to the cardinal issue in next year’s election.