The Forgotten Americans

After spending a week in South Texas and interacting with the inhabitants of this area, I cannot help but agree with the title of the PBS documentary “The Forgotten Americans.” I believe that title says it all – the bottom 5% in this country seems to have been completely forgotten. Cast your mind back to last year’s political campaigns – how many times did you hear any of the presidential candidates talk about the bottom 5%? During the three presidential debates, I believe reference was made to the middle-class more than 20 times and reference to the top 3% was also made many times.

Why have they been forgotten about? 

I do not have an answer to this question, but here is what I think. Maybe they have they been forgotten because society thinks the bottom 5% are welfare dependent and unwilling to work. Contrary to this opinion, some of those who fall within the bottom 5% are hard working members of society who often work two or more jobs, but are poor because they earn minimum wage. During this past week, I was always saddened when I heard about how some older adults in the Rio Grande Valley do not qualify for Medicare because they earned minimum wage and were unable to contribute toward Medicare. These were people who worked hard during their prime years, mostly as farm hands. Is falling through the cracks in this manner a fair end for people who have worked all their lives in the United States of America in the 21st century?

In the last decade, effective enforcement of policies that were targeted toward stopping the spread of colonias in Texas has indeed reduced the rate at which these settlements are being built. Despite these laws, colonias, with few public utilities and poor infrastructure are still being built in 2013. As PBS captures in their documentary, inhabitants of these colonias form a part of the population that is forgotten. Many people in this country do not know about the existence of these colonias, or about the residential or health challenges those residents in the colonias face. As public health practitioners, we cannot achieve our targets of ensuring population health if a significant (5%) proportion of the population remains forgotten.

After encountering the bottom 5% this week, I keep wondering how the opportunities of a baby born to these communities compares with the opportunities of another baby born at the same time to a physician who lives in Cambridge, Boston. If you think the outlook of these two babies are not possibly the same, then my question for you is, how do we ensure that in this greatest nation in the world — the land of golden opportunities — all babies get an equal chance at attain their potential despite their zip code of birth?

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