Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Haitian earthquake serves as an economic equalizer

The Haitian earthquake has become the great economic equalizer. The poorest have received the most attention with aid, while the middle class have had little support. Much of the middle class have been unable to rebuild their houses, as that was where most of their wealth was invested in before the earthquake.

From the Miami Herald, we read more about how the earthquake affected those who were not in poverty.

As walls crumbled and the slums spilled into the streets, the Jan. 12 earthquake became the great equalizer in a society of staggering disparities, forcing the middle class and the most impoverished into the same bucket of despair.

Those who lost the least have received the most help, and those who lost the most have received the least.

"The worst place to be right now in this country is the middle class," said Kesner Pharel, a local economist. "They've invested everything they had in their house and they've lost it all. You have a lower class that didn't have a house, and today they have a tent and say 'better for me.' The top already had money to get back on their feet."

In many cases, post-quake charitable dollars and goods flowing into the country have allowed Haiti's lower class to climb a few rungs up the ladder, bringing a quality of life not known before Jan. 12.

But for the middle class, the disparity is unbearable. The quake that took a government-estimated 300,000 lives not only took their homes and livelihood, it also wiped away social status in a country where that is priceless.

On a hillside one recent Sunday morning, where once comfortable houses made up the middle class Petionville neighborhood of Morne Lazard, homeowners looked at the rubble and told a tale of anger and helplessness.

Almost six months after the quake, Haiti's middle class — lawyers, doctors, receptionists and thousands of public administration employees — have become the new poor in a land of immense poverty. Now, they're homeless and unemployed.

Mostly absent in the homeless camps, they choose instead to sleep in tents in the front yards of their damaged homes, or in neighborhood streets cordoned off with boulders and vehicles.

They're still struggling to come to terms with their tumble from grace.

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