The point is well taken. Never in our country have we witnessed more children growing up in poverty. Given the manner in which contemporary programs are often administered, moreover, a sizable population of at risk people will continue to exist. Keep in mind that America celebrates rates of unemployment as “low” as four or five percent, when in truth these numbers denote hundreds of thousands of people out of work, many for long periods of time, with some destined never to return to work. And then there is the matter of the family members of these unemployed workers.

A rather intriguing aspect of America’s so-called at risk populations now presents itself. For if one looks across the social and economic boundaries of the culture, and sometimes they almost seem palpable, one finds an extraordinary panoply of peoples, all of them having one thing in common: The belief or outright hard earned knowledge that their respective group, if not they themselves as individuals, are at peril. They are struggling, suffering even. Along with legions of experts, these people would allege that the status of peril is due directly to acts, well intentioned or not, of social and personal injustice.

Surely the poor of the land, the parents of the one in five children growing up in poverty, the homeless and jobless, the children obliged to attend wretched schools or enrolled in schools slated to be closed, the people without health care or those unable to find the slightest morsel of nurturance and security in their families feel this way. One would predict this. What possibly do we say about a culture that permits children to live without adequate shelter, or go malnourished for years. Surely there has to be some standard, some minimal level of decency, as Stephen Nathanson calls it, beneath which we cannot morally allow people to fall.

Yet remarkably, one hears the same refrains of peril and injustice among families of all classes, in schools, child care and health care centers in all classes. People either sense they have been excluded from something profoundly significant offered by the culture, or they know it with assuredness. They have been deprived, they claim, of basic living requirements, access to power, institutions, or other forms of valuable resources. They are out of touch with some agency, some information, or they feel isolated from powers that at times appear mystical or magical, and at times as tangible as the injustices these particular people continue to experience and internalize as part of their makeup.

These sentiments congeal in a peculiarly intriguing aspect of injustice: namely, that people of all classes and circumstances believe they have been deprived, or perhaps they have permanently lost out, or are themselves lost in the pursuit of real and imagined life goals, purposes and dreams. As Rollo May suggested, they sense their own potentials have never been nurtured, never seen the light of day. Or, given the society’s standards of accomplishment and worth as well as limited resources, perhaps they harbor some primitive competitive sense, and have determined that they have lost the game. The loss, moreover, is felt to be irrevocable, and places them in the difficult position of being forever sequestered from successful people, invulnerable people, those who never find themselves in harm’s way. Driving this sense of loss and separation is the belief that one is legitimately entitled to, well, something; at least more than what one has presently. Television after all, displays what everyone possesses, so no longer can anyone report, “We grew up poor but we thought everyone lived
like us.” We may not know our own history, we may not know the statistics of injustice, but we know well the life styles of the rich and famous. Politics, social history, one’s unique set of experiences, the intensity of one’s loyalty to one’s country, years of hard work, anything at all may evoke one’s deep seated resentments, or, for that matter, invoke justifications for one’s sense of entitlement, a sense not so incidentally, born from the public virtue of individualism, or individually based achievement. One person, one vote becomes transliterated: I am, therefore I am entitled. As a result of this clamoring for what one believes should be his or her own, the entire structure of political action, seemingly, has been transformed. Mass movements of a voluntary nature are more complicated and treacherous to establish and maintain than they were even a decade ago. As Theodore Roszak pointed out, we seem to have a chain of voluntary associations, each with its own special political concerns and focus, each
feeling that its rights have been jeopardized or compromised, and each feeling its own political claim to be legitimate, whether or not it touches upon the political legitimacy or claims of the next group in line. How has it happened that so many people feel they have been victimized by injustice! How has it happened that so many people feel themselves to be at peril!