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Gary Younge
The invisible poor

Charleston, South Carolina: There are some things that never get discussed in American politics, regardless of their importance. The fact that one in three black boys born in 2001 will end up in jail, the country's uncritical relationship with Israel, and the prevalence of poverty in a nation of immense wealth. These things never really get a look in.

Since President Bush assumed power in 2000, poverty has risen by 7%, the proportion of those without healthcare has risen by 9%, and median household income has fallen by 3%. In South Carolina, almost one in six now live below the poverty line. Struggling from pay cheque to pay cheque, they are just one small push away from falling off the edge of the cliff. An illness in the family, the car breaking down, the expense of a family funeral, is sometimes all it takes to send them over the edge.

Social mobility may lie at the heart of the American dream, but class is increasingly central to the American reality. At the Low Country Food Bank the executive director, D Jeremiah Husser, explains that the working poor are like a special interest group that never gets heard because they don't have the price for a ticket to the swanky functions where you get the ear of the nation's political elite.

For those at the bottom of the barrel these primaries are a side show. According to the census, 81.3% of those who earned $100,000 or more turned out in 2004. The figure for those who earned less than $20,000 was 48%.

Brian Ballzigler has never voted. A trained electrician who lost his livelihood along with his leg after a vascular illness, he sees no one who represents his interests. His wife Mary is registered to vote, but does not see anyone addressing their needs and is not sure whether she will use her vote or not. To be fair, John Edwards does talk about the poor. But you never get the sense that he is talking to them. For the time being, Clinton and Obama have clearly decided they are happy talking to each other.

The economy is the most important issue for Democrats ahead of Saturday's primary in South Carolina. After yesterday's market meltdown and the Fed rescue, it will only become more so. The Ballziglers are watching the vicissitudes of the stock market because they have no stake in it. But a large number of others on pensions, and with subprime mortgages, are paying keen attention for fear that they will join them on among the poor - those invisible Americans who are hidden in plain sight.

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