Saturday, August 28, 2010

POVERTY IN THE O.C. (One Family's Story)

SAN CLEMENTE – Allen Pederson pulls into a parking slot at San Clemente State Beach, hoping he gets a meter with a little time left.

Renting by the hour with a few coins is all he can do now. This 1998 white Ford van is Pederson's real estate reality; 25 square feet he calls "our little apartment."
Beside Allen is his wife of 21 years, Regina. This was her vehicle, the one she used to drive the couple's three kids to church, the one with the "Best Mom" license plate frame intact.

It's sunset on a recent Thursday, and the couple sits down on a park bench on the bluff overlooking the ocean, and Allen jokes that this is his living room. Dinner is from Taco Bell, a tostada, burrito and Diet Coke eating up most of the last $5 Allen had in his wallet.

This is all the Pedersons have left of what Allen called "the Orange County Dream." They have lost everything since Allen lost his job in 2005, an event that triggered a domino effect of decline for the family, down to being homeless and what Allen admits is now day-to-day survival.

"It's just kinda like, where did it go? It was just there. It happened so fast! You think, 'It will never happen to me.' I think back, how did it happen?" Allen says. "How did this happen?"



Who gives more to those in need; the rich or the poor?

For decades, surveys have shown that upper-income Americans don’t give away as much of their money as they might and are particularly undistinguished as givers when compared with the poor, who are strikingly generous. A number of other studies have shown that lower-income Americans give proportionally more of their incomes to charity than do upper-income Americans. In 2001, Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization focused on charitable giving, found that households earning less than $25,000 a year gave away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 gave away 2.7 percent.

This situation is perplexing if you think of it in terms of dollars and cents: the poor, you would assume, don’t have resources to spare, and the personal sacrifice of giving is disproportionately large. The rich do have money to spend. Those who itemize receive a hefty tax break to make charitable donations, a deduction that grows more valuable the higher they are on the income scale. And the well-off are presumed to have at least a certain sense of noblesse oblige. Americans pride themselves on their philanthropic tradition, and on the role of private charity, which is much more developed here than it is in Europe, where the expectation is that the government will care for the poor.