WASHINGTON, DC—As part of the ongoing federal effort to improve America's homeless population, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala announced Monday that the new '98 homeless will be seven percent louder than before.

One of the new, improved '98 homeless.

"Time and time again, America's homeless have proven themselves to be world leaders in the field of intrusive, high-volume vocalization," a beaming Shalala told reporters at a press conference on the National Mall, a leading center of U.S. homelessness. "And with the new, tougher vocal cords and expanded lung capacity of the '98 crop, our nation's homeless should continue to set the standard for excellence in the field of sustained, incomprehensible shouting."

"When it comes to homelessness," said Shalala, her voice nearly drowned out by the random yells of confused homeless assembled in the vicinity, "America truly is 'ahead of the pack.'"

In addition to their increased vocal capacity, the '98 homeless will be upgraded in numerous other ways. Among the improvements: They will consume 40 percent lower-grade alcohol, involve themselves in 57 percent more dysfunctional interpersonal relationships, and inhale 29 percent more dangerous industrial-solvent fumes.

But it is in the field of long-winded, indecipherable rambling at the top of their lungs that America's homeless have truly distinguished themselves. "The homeless population of America today," Shalala told the cheering crowd, "is bigger, poorer and, best of all, louder than any of the foreign competition. Let's give them all a hand for showing the world that America is still number one."

Monday's announcement was the result of the Department of Health and Human Services' recently completed Survey On Trends Concerning U.S. Urban Poor, a detailed study of the projected state of poverty in the next decade. According to HHS sources, the seven percent loudness-increase estimate for 1998 was arrived at by cross-indexing a variety of socioeconomic factors and reflects homeless citizens' "good old American know-how" and "desperate willingness to go to any length necessary to get others to acknowledge their existence."

According to United Nations figures, the U.S. has led the world in homeless-volume levels for the past 14 years, global dominance that many credit to Ronald Reagan's mass deregulation of the nation's mental institutions in 1982. Within a year of the Reagan deregulation, such longtime homelessness superpowers as Haiti, Mexico and India started to fall far behind the U.S., and have not caught up to this day.

But Reagan, whose mass emptying of the nation's mental hospitals left over 170,000 babbling, incoherent inpatients roaming the streets of America, is not the only one who deserves credit for establishing the U.S. as the world leader in homeless volume, Shalala said. The real credit goes to the homeless themselves.

"America's street-savvy homeless know what it takes to survive living in our country's increasingly pitiless and inhospitable public spaces," Shalala said. "In the past, simple human compassion for one's fellow man was enough to move the average citizen to acts of kindness toward the homeless. But now, with modern desensitization to the daily parade of human misery evident on any city street, it takes a lot more than a mere appeal to the kindness of strangers to get that nickel, dime, or quarter—it takes a non-stop barrage of high-volume, indecipherable, in-your-face ranting to make passersby so annoyed with your presence that they will relent and give you money just to make you leave them alone."

"I am proud to say that America's homeless have proven their greatness time and time again," she added. "When it comes to shouting, they have no rivals anywhere on Earth, and in the coming years, they're just going to get poorer, drunker and louder."