While violence statistically is on the decline in the US, the nation is setting an alarming trend in how it treats the most vulnerable–the hungry, homeless, and uninsured families. That’s the report from researchers at Manchester College in their latest National Index of Violence and Harm, according to a press release. The college located in North Manchester, Ind., is related to the Church of the Brethren.
Even before the Gulf Coast devastation of Hurricane Katrina, emergency food requests had increased 14.4 percent in just one year–from 2003 to 2004–with 38.2 million people or 13.2 percent of the population living in households experiencing “food insecurity,” according to the study.
Several other statistically significant trends emerged in the study of US Census data by three faculty members and a student at Manchester. The team examined 1995-2004 poverty and income levels for several groups in the US population. In 2004, more than 81 percent of US major cities turned people away from overwhelmed shelters, while families with children comprised 35-40 percent of the US homeless population. In that same year, 45.8 million people were without health insurance.
Nevertheless, the latest National Index of Harm and Violence shows positive trends in 14 of the 19 variables measured over the nine-year study period. The index is divided into two broad categories of violence/harm. The Personal Index includes, for example, homicide, suicide, and drug deaths. The Societal Index includes, for example, police abuse, corporate pollution, and child abuse. It also includes harm resulting from the structuring of society, such as poverty and discrimination.
Street crime declined sharply, the index shows, helping to fuel an overall 14 percent drop in the Personal Index since 1995. The Societal Index also dropped, although it did include an increase in the government category (correctional system and law enforcement).
“As opposed to the more familiar and dramatic personal harm, such as homicide, societal harm is just as destructive and is far more pervasive in our society,” noted sociology and social work professor Bradley L. Yoder, one of the researchers. “Many more people are adversely affected by structural and institutional forces.”
The clearest example of worsening societal harm is social negligence, which continues to climb. Although the high school dropout rate fell significantly in 2002 to 3.4 percent, after hovering near 4.5 percent for six years, in 2003 it bounced up to 3.8 percent.
Other social negligence indicators continued to rise in 2003, some dramatically: lack of health insurance–from 15.2 to 15.6 percent of the population, with 45 million uninsured in 2003; hunger–more than 12.5 million households experienced food insecurity up from 12.1 million in 2002, according to the US Department of Agriculture; homelessness–in 2003 an average increase of 7 percent in requests for emergency housing across major metropolitan areas.
The Manchester College research team is led by psychology professor Neil J. Wollman, and also includes James Brumbaugh-Smith, associate professor of mathematics and computer science, and sophomore Jonathan Largent of Muncie, Ind. The faculty members have been compiling the Index since 1995.
The Manchester College research is unique in considering the homelessness and dropout rates together, said Wollman, senior fellow of the Manchester College Peace Studies Institute and professor of psychology. “By examining them together, we can see whether our society responds adequately to the needs of its citizens, particularly those who are most vulnerable,” he said. “Given the basic nature of these long unfulfilled needs–and the fact that all other industrialized countries do provide in these areas–we may need to look more closely at ourselves and our self-image of being a compassionate people.”
For example, non-whites were still 2.7 times more likely to be in poverty in 2003. And, while the gap in poverty disparity declined strongly for gender, race, and age, class differences continued to climb. The disparity for 2003 was the greatest on record.
To learn more about the National Index of Harm and Violence and to contact the researchers, visit www.manchester.edu/links/violenceindex. The independent, liberal arts Manchester College is home to the nation’s first undergraduate peace studies program and the Graduation Pledge Alliance. To learn more about Manchester visit http://www.manchester.edu/.