"I've had grown men wet this floor with tears, begging
for a job. We have to pray with some to keep them from killing themselves.
So many say they just want to die," says Charlie Tarrance, a director
of a private social agency. His task is to deal with growing lines of despairing
people looking for jobs, housing, and food. The place is Gadsden, Alabama,
but it could be anywhere in the United States.
It could be Washington, D.C., at a Safeway supermarket a mile
or so from the White House where an elderly man is crying and holding a
can of dog food. When asked what's wrong, he says, "I'm hungry. I'm
It could be New York City, where a woman begins screaming
at the landlord who evicts her and her several children. The Bureau of Child
Welfare takes her children, which distresses her all the more. She herself
is transported to a New York mental hospital crying angrily--only to be
diagnosed and committed by the all- knowing psychiatrists as a "paranoid
There is misery and cruelty in the land. As U.S. leaders move
determinedly toward their free-market Final Solution, stories abound of
hunger, pain, and desperation. Such things have existed for a long time.
Social pathology is as much a part of this society as crime and capitalism.
But life is getting ever more difficult for many.
Some Grim Statistics
Conservatives are fond of telling us what a wonderful, happy, prosperous
nation this is. The only thing that matches their love of country is the
remarkable indifference they show toward the people who live in it. To their
ears the anguished cries of the dispossessed sound like the peevish whines
of malcontents. They denounce as "bleeding hearts" those of us
who criticize existing conditions, who show some concern for our fellow
citizens. But the dirty truth is that there exists a startling amount of
hardship, abuse, affliction, illness, violence, and pathology in this country.
The figures reveal a casualty list that runs into many millions. Consider
the following estimates. In any one year:
* 27,000 Americans commit suicide.
* 5,000 attempt suicide; some estimates are higher.
* 26,000 die from fatal accidents in the home.
* 23,000 are murdered.
* 85,000 are wounded by firearms.
* 38,000 of these die, including 2,600 children.
* 13,000,000 are victims of crimes including assault, rape, armed robbery,
burglary, larceny, and arson.
* 135,000 children take guns to school.
* 5,500,000 people are arrested for all offenses (not including traffic
* 125,000 die prematurely of alcohol abuse.
* 473,000 die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses; 53,000 of these
* 6,500,000 use heroin, crack, speed, PCP, cocaine or some other hard drug
on a regular basis.
* 5,000+ die from illicit drug use. Thousands suffer serious debilitations.
* 1,000+ die from sniffing household substances found under the kitchen
sink. About 20 percent of all eighth-graders have "huffed" toxic
substances. Thousands suffer permanent neurological damage.
* 31,450,000 use marijuana; 3,000,000 of whom are heavy usuers.
* 37,000,000, or one out of every six Americans, regularly use emotion controlling
medical drugs. The users are mostly women. The pushers are doctors; the
suppliers are pharmaceutical companies; the profits are stupendous.
* 2,000,000 nonhospitalized persons are given powerful mind-control drugs,
sometimes described as "chemical straitjackets."
* 5,000 die from psychoactive drug treatments.
* 200,000 are subjected to electric shock treatments that are injurious
to the brain and nervous system.
* 600 to 1,000 are lobotomized, mostly women.
* 25,000,000, or one out of every 10 Americans, seek help from psychiatric,
psychotherapeutic, or medical sources for mental and emotional problems,
at a cost of over $4 billion annually.
* 6,800,000 turn to nonmedical services, such as ministers, welfare agencies,
and social counselors for help with emotional troubles. In all, some 80,000,000
have sought some kind of psychological counseling in their lifetimes.
* 1,300,000 suffer some kind of injury related to treatment at hospitals.
* 2,000,000 undergo unnecessary surgical operations; 10,000 of whom die
from the surgery.
* 180,000 die from adverse reactions to all medical treatments, more than
are killed by airline and automobile accidents combined.
* 14,000+ die from overdoses of legal prescription drugs.
* 45,000 are killed in auto accidents. Yet more cars and highways are being
built while funding for safer forms of mass transportation is reduced.
* 1,800,000 sustain nonfatal injuries from auto accidents; but 150,000 of
these auto injury victims suffer permanent impairments.
* 126,000 children are born with a major birth defect, mostly due to insufficient
prenatal care, nutritional deficiency, environmental toxicity, or maternal
* 2,900,000 children are reportedly subjected to serious neglect or abuse,
including physical torture and deliberate starvation.
* 5,000 children are killed by parents or grandparents.
* 30,000 or more children are left permanently physically disabled from
abuse and neglect. Child abuse in the United States afflicts more children
each year than leukemia, automobile accidents, and infectious diseases combined.
With growing unemployment, incidents of abuse by jobless parents is increasing
* 1,000,000 children run away from home, mostly because of abusive treatment,
including sexual abuse, from parents and other adults. Of the many sexually
abused children among runaways, 83 percent come from white families.
* 150,000 children are reported missing.
* 50,000 of these simply vanish. Their ages range from one year to mid-teens.
According to the New York Times, "Some of these are dead, perhaps half
of the John and Jane Does annually buried in this country are unidentified
* 900,000 children, some as young as seven years old, are engaged in child
labor in the United States, serving as underpaid farm hands, dishwashers,
laundry workers, and domestics for as long as ten hours a day in violation
of child labor laws.
* 2,000,000 to 4,000,00 women are battered. Domestic violence is the single
largest cause of injury and second largest cause of death to U.S. women.
* 700,000 women are raped, one every 45 seconds.
* 5,000,000 workers are injured on the job; 150,000 of whom suffer permanent
work-related disabilities, including maiming, paralysis, impaired vision,
damaged hearing, and sterility.
* 100,000 become seriously ill from work-related diseases, including black
lung, brown lung, cancer, and tuberculosis.
* 14,000 are killed on the job; about 90 percent are men.
* 100,000 die prematurely from work-related diseases.
* 60,000 are killed by toxic environmental pollutants or contaminants in
food, water, or air.
* 4,000 die from eating contaminated meat.
* 20,000 others suffer from poisoning by E.coli 0157-H7, the mutant bacteria
found in contaminated meat that generally leads to lifelong physical and
mental health problems. A more thorough meat inspection with new technologies
could eliminate most instances of contamination--so would vegetarianism.
* 5,100,000 are behind bars or on probation or parole; 2,700,000
of these are either locked up in county, state or federal prisons or under
legal supervision. Each week 1,600 more people go to jail than leave. The
prison population has skyrocketed over 200 percent since 1980. Over 40 percent
of inmates are jailed on nonviolent drug related crimes. African Americans
constitute 13 percent of drug users but 35 percent of drug arrests, 55 percent
of drug convictions and 74 percent of prison sentences. For nondrug offenses,
African Americans get prison terms that average about 10 percent longer
than Caucasians for similar crimes.
* 15,000+ have tuberculosis, with the numbers growing rapidly; 10,000,000
or more carry the tuberculosis bacilli, with large numbers among the economically
deprived or addicted.
* 10,000,000 people have serious drinking problems; alcoholism is on the
* 16,000,000 have diabetes, up from 11,000,000 in 1983 as Americans get
more sedentary and sugar addicted. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to
blindness, kidney failure and nerve damage.
* 160,000 will die from diabetes this year.
* 280,000 are institutionalized for mental illness or mental retardation.
Many of these are forced into taking heavy doses of mind control drugs.
* 255,000 mentally ill or retarded have been summarily released in recent
years. Many of the "deinstitutionalized" are now in flophouses
or wandering the streets.
* 3,000,000 or more suffer cerebral and physical handicaps including paralysis,
deafness, blindness, and lesser disabilities. A disproportionate number
of them are poor. Many of these disabilities could have been corrected with
early treatment or prevented with better living conditions.
* 2,400,000 million suffer from some variety of seriously incapacitating
chronic fatigue syndrome.
* 10,000,000+ suffer from symptomatic asthma, an increase of 145 percent
from 1990 to 1995, largely due to the increasingly polluted quality of the
air we breathe.
* 40,000,000 or more are without health insurance or protection from catastrophic
* 1,800,000 elderly who live with their families are subjected to serious
abuse such as forced confinement, underfeeding, and beatings. The mistreatment
of elderly people by their children and other close relatives grows dramatically
as economic conditions worsen.
* 1,126,000 of the elderly live in nursing homes. A large but undetermined
number endure conditions of extreme neglect, filth, and abuse in homes that
are run with an eye to extracting the highest possible profit.
* 1,000,000 or more children are kept in orphanages, reformatories, and
adult prisons. Most have been arrested for minor transgressions or have
committed no crime at all and are jailed without due process. Most are from
impoverished backgrounds. Many are subjected to beatings, sexual assault,
prolonged solitary confinement, mind control drugs, and in some cases psychosurgery.
* 1,000,000 are estimated to have AIDS as of 1996; over 250,000 have died
of that disease.
* 950,000 school children are treated with powerful mind control drugs for
"hyperactivity" every year--with side effects like weight loss,
growth retardation and acute psychosis.
* 4,000,000 children are growing up with unattended learning disabilities.
* 4,500,000+ children, or more than half of the 9,000,000 children on welfare,
suffer from malnutrition. Many of these suffer brain damage caused by prenatal
and infant malnourishment.
* 40,000,000 persons, or one of every four women and more than one of every
ten men, are estimated to have been sexually molested as children, most
often between the ages of 9 and 12, usually by close relatives or family
acquaintances. Such abuse almost always extends into their early teens and
is a part of their continual memory and not a product of memory retrieval
* 7,000,000 to 12,000,000 are unemployed; numbers vary with the business
cycle. Increasing numbers of the chronically unemployed show signs of stress
and emotional depression.
* 6,000,000 are in "contingent" jobs, or jobs structured to last
only temporarily. About 60 percent of these would prefer permanent employment.
* 15,000,000 or more are part-time or reduced-time "contract"
workers who need full-time jobs and who work without benefits.
* 3,000,000 additional workers are unemployed but uncounted because their
unemployment benefits have run out, or they never qualified for benefits,
or they have given up looking for work, or they joined the armed forces
because they were unable to find work.
* 80,000,000 live on incomes estimated by the U.S. Department of Labor as
below a "comfortable adequacy"; 35,000,000 of these live below
the poverty level.
* 12,000,000 of those at poverty's rock bottom suffer from chronic hunger
and malnutrition. The majority of the people living at or below the poverty
level experience hunger during some portion of the year.
* 2,000,000 or more are homeless, forced to live on the streets or in makeshift
* 160,000,000+ are members of households that are in debt, a sharp increase
from the 100 million of less than a decade ago. A majority indicate they
have borrowed money not for luxuries but for necessities. Mounting debts
threaten a financial crack-up in more and more families.
A Happy Nation?
Obviously these estimates include massive duplications. Many of the 20 million
unemployed are among the 35 million below the poverty level. Many of the
malnourished children are also among those listed as growing up with untreated
learning disabilities and almost all are among the 35 million poor. Many
of the 37 million regular users of mind-control drugs also number among
the 25 million who seek psychiatric help.
Some of these deprivations and afflictions are not as serious
as others. The 80 million living below the "comfortably adequate"
income level may compose too vague and inclusive a category for some observers
(who themselves enjoy a greater distance from the poverty line). The 40
million who are without health insurance are not afflicted by an actual
catastrophe but face only a potential one (though the absence of health
insurance often leads to a lack of care and eventually a serious health
crisis). We might not want to consider the 5.5 million arrested as having
endured a serious affliction, but what of the 1.5 million who are serving
time and what of their victims? We might want to count only the 150,000
who suffer a serious job-related disability rather than the five million
on-the-job injuries, only half of the 20 million unemployed and underemployed
so as not to duplicate poverty figures, only 10 percent of the 1.1 million
institutionalized elderly as mistreated (although the number is probably
higher), only 10 per cent of the 37 million regular users of medically prescribed
psychogenic drugs as seriously troubled, only 5 per cent of the 160 million
living in indebted families as seriously indebted (although the number is
If we consider only those who have endured physical or sexual
abuse, or have been afflicted with a serious disability, or a serious deprivation
such as malnutrition and homelessness, only those who face untimely deaths
due to suicide, murder, battering, drug and alcohol abuse, industrial and
motor vehicle accidents, medical (mis)treatment, occupational illness, and
sexually transmitted diseases, we are still left with a staggering figure
of over 19,000,000 victims. To put the matter in some perspective, in the
12 years that saw 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam, several million died
prematurely within the United States from unnatural and often violent causes.
Official bromides to the contrary, we are faced with a hidden
holocaust, a social pathology of staggering dimensions. Furthermore, the
above figures do not tell the whole story. In almost every category an unknown
number of persons go unreported. For instance, the official tabulation of
35 million living in poverty is based on census data that undercount transients,
homeless people, and those living in remote rural and crowded inner-city
areas. Also, the designated poverty line is set at an unrealistically low
income level and takes insufficient account of how inflation especially
affects the basics of food, fuel, housing, and health care that consume
such a disproportionate chunk of lower incomes. Some economists estimate
that actually as many as 46 million live in conditions of acute economic
Left uncounted are the more than two thousand yearly deaths
in the U.S. military due to training and transportation accidents, and the
many murders and suicides in civilian life that are incorrectly judged as
deaths from natural causes, along with the premature deaths from cancer
caused by radioactive and other carcinogenic materials in the environment.
Almost all cancer deaths are now thought to be from human-made causes.
Fatality figures do not include the people who are incapacitated
and sickened from the one thousand potentially toxic additional chemicals
that industry releases into the environment each year, and who die years
later but still prematurely. At present there are at least 51,000 industrial
toxic dump sites across the country that pose potentially serious health
hazards to communities, farmlands, water tables, and livestock. One government
study has concluded that the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the
food we eat are now perhaps the leading causes of death in the United States.
None of these figures include the unhappiness, bereavement,
and longterm emotional wounds inflicted upon the many millions of loved
ones, friends, and family members who are close to the victims.
Public Policy, Personal Pain
If things are so bad, why then has the U.S. mortality rate been declining?
The decline over the last half-century has been due largely to the dramatic
reduction in infant mortality and the containment of many contagious diseases,
largely through improvement in public health standards. Furthermore, years
of industrial struggle by working people, especially in the twentieth century,
brought a palpable betterment in certain conditions. In other words, as
bad as things are now, in earlier times some things were even worse. For
example, about 14,000 persons are killed on the job annually, but in 1916
the toll was 35,000, with the labor force less than half what it is today.
The growth in health consciousness that has led millions to
quit smoking, exercise more regularly, and have healthier diets also has
reduced mortality rates, especially among those over 40. The 55-mile per
hour speed limit and the crackdown on drunken driving contributed by cutting
into highway fatalities. But the cancer death rate and most of the other
pathologies and life diminishing conditions listed earlier continue in an
upward direction. Small wonder the climb in life expectancy has leveled
off to a barely perceptible crawl in recent years.
When compared to other nations, we discover we are not as
Number One-ish as we might think. The U.S. infant mortality rate is higher
than in thirteen other countries. And in life expectancy, 20-year-old U.S.
males rank thirty-sixth among the world's nations, and 20-year-old females
are twenty-first. The additional tragedy of these statistics is that most
of the casualties are not inevitable products of the human condition, but
are due mostly to the social and material conditions created by our profits-before-people
corporate system. Consider a few examples.
First, it may be that industrial production will always carry
some kind of risk, but the present rate of attrition can be largely ascribed
to inadequate safety standards, speedup, and lax enforcement of safety codes.
Better policies can make a difference. In the chemical industry alone, regulations
put out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)--at
a yearly cost to industry of $140 per worker--brought a 23 percent drop
in accidents and sickness, averting some 90,000 illnesses and injuries.
OSHA's resources are pathetically inadequate. It has only
enough inspectors to visit each workplace once every eighty years. Workplace
standards to control the tens of thousands of toxic substances are issued
at the rate of less than three a year. Even this feeble effort has been
more than business could tolerate. Under the Reagan and Bush administrations,
OSHA began removing protections, exempting most firms from routine safety
inspections, and weakening the cotton dust, cancer, and lead safety standards,
and a worker's right to see company medical records.
Second, it may be that in any society some children will sicken
and die. But better nutrition and health care make a difference. The Women,
Infants and Children nutrition program (WIC) did cut down on starvation
and hunger. On the other hand, years after passing a law making some thirteen
million children eligible for medical examination and treatment, Congress
discovered that almost 85 percent of the youngsters had been left unexamined,
causing, in the words of a House subcommittee report, "unnecessary
crippling, retardation, or even death of thousands of children."
Third, it may be that medical treatment will always have its
hazards, but given the way health care is organized in the United States,
money often makes the difference between life and death. Many sick people
die simply because they receive insufficient care or are treated too late.
Health insurance premiums have risen astronomically and hospital bills have
grown five times faster than the overall cost of living. Yet it is almost
universally agreed that people are not receiving better care, only more
expensive care, and in some areas the quality of care has deteriorated.
Some physicians have cheated Medicaid and Medicare of hundreds
of millions of dollars by consistently overcharging for services and tests;
fraudulently billing for nonexistent patients or for services not rendered;
charging for unneeded treatments, tests, and hospital admissions--and most
unforgivable of all-- performing unnecessary surgery. Meanwhile, private
health insurance companies make profits by raising premiums and withholding
care. So people are paying more than ever for health insurance while getting
less than ever.
Fourth, it may be that automobile accidents are unavoidable
in any society with millions of motor vehicles, but why have we become increasingly
dependent on this costly, dangerous, and ecologically disastrous form of
transportation? In transporting people, one railroad or subway car can do
the work of fifty automobiles. Railroads consume a sixth of the energy used
by trucks to transport goods.
These very efficiencies are what make railroads so undesirable
to the oil and auto lobbies. For over a half-century, giant corporations
like General Motors, Standard Oil of California, and Firestone Tires bought
up most of the nation's clean and safe electric streetcar networks, dismantled
them, and cut back on all public transportation, thereby forcing people
to rely more and more on private cars. The monorail in Japan, a commuter
train that travels much faster than any train, has transported some three
billion passengers without an injury or fatality. The big oil and auto companies
in the U.S. have successfully blocked the construction of monorails here.
In ways not yet mentioned corporate and public policies gravely
affect private lives. Birth deformities, for instance, are not just a quirk
of nature, as the heartbroken parents of Love Canal or the thalidomide children
can testify. Many such defects are caused by fast-buck companies that treat
our environment like a septic tank. Unsafe products are another cause; there
are hundreds of hair dyes, food additives, cosmetics, and medicines marketed
for quick profits which have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and other
The food industry, seeking to maximize profits, offers ever
increasing amounts of highly processed, chemicalized, low-nutrition foods.
Bombarded by junk-food advertising over the last thirty years, TV viewers,
especially younger ones, have changed their eating habits dramatically.
Per capita consumption of vegetables and fruits is down 20 to 25 per cent
while consumption of cakes, pastry, soft drinks, and other snacks is up
70 to 80 per cent. According to a U.S. Senate report, the increased consumption
of junk foods "may be as damaging to the nation's health as the widespread
contagious diseases of the early part of the century." All this may
start showing up on the actuarial charts when greater numbers of the younger
junk-food generation move into middle age.
In 1995-96, a Republican-controlled Congress pushed for further
cuts in environmental and consumer safety standards and in the regulation
of industry, cuts in various public health programs, and cuts in nutritional
programs for children and pregnant women. State and local governments are
also cutting back on public protection programs and human services in order
to pay the enormous sums owed to the banks and to compensate for reductions
in federal aid. Thus New York City took such "economy measures"
as closing all of its venereal disease clinics and most of its drug rehabilitation
and health centers.
We are told that wife-beating, child abuse, alcoholism, drug
abuse, and other such pathologies know no class boundaries and are found
at all income levels. This is true but misleading. The impression left is
that these pathologies are randomly distributed across the social spectrum
and are purely a matter of individual pathology. Actually, many of them
are skewed heavily toward the low-income, the unemployed, and the dispossessed.
As economic conditions worsen, so afflictions increase. Behind many of these
statistics is the story of class, racial, sexual, and age oppressions that
have long been among the legacies of our social order, oppressions that
are seldom discussed in any depth by political leaders, news media, or educators.
In addition, more and more middle-income people are hurting
from the Third Worldization of America, suffering from acute stress, alcoholism,
job insecurity, insufficient income, high rents, heavy mortgage payments,
high taxes, and crushing educational and medical costs. And almost all of
us eat the pesticide-ridden foods, breathe the chemicalized air, and risk
drinking the toxic water and being exposed to the contaminating wastes of
our increasingly chemicalized, putrefied environment. I say "almost
all of us" because the favored few live on country estates, ranches,
seashore mansions, and summer hideaways where the air is relatively fresh.
And, like President Reagan, they eat only the freshest food and meat derived
from organically fed steers that are kept free of chemical hormones--while
telling the rest of us not to get hysterical about pesticides and herbicides
and chemical additives.
All this explains why many of us find little cause for rejoicing
about America the Beautiful. It is not that we don't love our country, but
that we do. We love not just an abstraction called "the USA" but
the people who live in it. And we believe that the pride of a nation should
not be used to hide the social and economic disorder that is its shame.
The American dream is becoming a nightmare for many. A concern for collective
betterment, for ending the abuses of free-market plunder, is of the utmost
importance. "People before profits" is not just a slogan, it is
our only hope.
All information posted on this web site is
the opinion of the author and is provided for educational purposes only.
It is not to be construed as medical advice. Only a licensed medical doctor
can legally offer medical advice in the United States. Consult the healer
of your choice for medical care and advice.