Poverty in America

Written by  //  July 13, 2008  //  Economy, Public Policy  //  1 Comment

With thanks to  one of our friends, who maintains an amazing listserve on a broad number of topics. There is much more on this sad topic, but repetition of the facts, figures and policy failures eventually becomes mind-numbing rather than poignant.

(NYT ) As Jobs Vanish and Prices Rise, Food Stamp Use Nears Record:
Driven by a painful mix of layoffs and rising food and fuel prices, the number of Americans receiving food stamps is projected to reach 28 million in the coming year, the highest level since the aid program began in the 1960s.
The number of recipients, who must have near-poverty incomes to qualify for benefits averaging $100 a month per family member, has fluctuated over the years along with economic conditions, eligibility rules, enlistment drives and natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, which led to a spike in the South.
But recent rises in many states appear to be resulting mainly from the economic slowdown, officials and experts say, as well as inflation in prices of basic goods that leave more families feeling pinched. Citing expected growth in unemployment, the Congressional Budget Office this month projected a continued increase in the monthly number of recipients in the next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1 — to 28 million, up from 27.8 million in 2008, and 26.5 million in 2007.
One example is Michigan, where one in eight residents now receives food stamps.
… The climb in food stamp recipients there has been relentless, through economic upturns and downturns, reflecting a steady loss of industrial jobs that has pushed recipient levels to new highs in Ohio and Illinois as well.
…Some states have experienced more recent surges. From December 2006 to December 2007, more than 40 states saw recipient numbers rise, and in several — Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota and Rhode Island — the one-year growth was 10 percent or more.
In Rhode Island, the number of recipients climbed by 18 percent over the last two years, to more than 84,000 as of February, or about 8.4 percent of the population.
…Eligibility is determined by a complex formula, but basically recipients must have few assets and incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line, or less than $27,560 for a family of four.

( WSJ ) U.S. Tallies Ranks of Homeless
There were 744,000 homeless people in the United States in 2005
, according to the first national estimate in a decade.
A little more than half were living in shelters, and nearly a quarter were chronically homeless, according to the report Wednesday by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, an advocacy group. A majority of the homeless were single adults, but about 41% were in families, the report said.
California was the state with most homeless people in 2005, about 170,000, followed by New York, Florida, Texas and Georgia, according to the report. Nevada had the highest share of its population homeless, about 0.68%. It was followed by Rhode Island, Colorado, California and Hawaii.

(NYT editorial) Barely Staying Afloat
As Erik Eckholm reported this week* in The Times, about 37 million Americans lived below the poverty line in 2004: $19,157 a year for a family of four. An additional 54 million lived between the poverty line and double the poverty line: $38,314 for a family of that size. They are the “near poor,” and they generally receive little attention. But they are often one injury or layoff away from slipping into poverty themselves.
If the “near poor” feel insecure, they have good reason to. A group of academics found that during the 1980’s, 13 percent of Americans in their 40’s spent a year or more below the poverty line. In the 1990’s, that percentage nearly tripled, reaching 36 percent. While workers once believed that pensions would provide for them in their old age, now they fret over underfunded 401(k) accounts. Houses are supposed to provide stability, but those with adjustable-rate mortgages are watching their payments rise, and some fear losing their homes.
[Foad: That’s 91 million people – almost 1/3 of the country – living in poverty or in near-poverty.]

*NYT story mentioned above
America’s ‘Near Poor’ Are Increasingly at Economic Risk, Experts Say
Americans on the lower rungs of the economic ladder have always been exposed to sudden ruin. But in recent years, with the soaring costs of housing and medical care and a decline in low-end wages and benefits, tens of millions are living on even shakier ground than before, according to studies of what some scholars call the “near poor.”

Basics, Not Luxuries, Blamed for High Debt
(Wash Post) Why are Americans so deeply in debt? It’s not because they are using credit cards to buy plasma TVs and premium coffee drinks at Starbucks. The real culprits, according to a new analysis, are the rising costs of housing, health care and education.

Excellent New Yorker story by Malcolm Gladwell The Moral-Hazard Myth – The bad idea behind our failed health-care system
Several years ago, two Harvard researchers, Susan Starr Sered and Rushika Fernandopulle, set out to interview people without health-care coverage for a book they were writing, “Uninsured in America.” They talked to as many kinds of people as they could find, collecting stories of untreated depression and struggling single mothers and chronically injured laborers—and the most common complaint they heard was about teeth.

Poverty Is Poison
, Paul Krugman

Living in or near poverty has always been a form of exile, of being cut off from the larger society. But the distance between the poor and the rest of us is much greater than it was 40 years ago, because most American incomes have risen in real terms while the official poverty line has not. To be poor in America today, even more than in the past, is to be an outcast in your own country. And that, the neuroscientists tell us, is what poisons a child’s brain.

Child poverty weakens the Anglo-American model
FT op-ed
For more than 30 years neoliberals have held up the US and, to a lesser extent, the UK as examples that other countries must follow to achieve economic success and high levels of social well-being. Yet, according to a recent Unicef report on child welfare, these are the worst two industrial countries in which to grow up. Is the Anglo-American model really as successful as neoliberals claim? Two years ago another United Nations agency, the UN Development Programme, singled out the plight of many children in the US and the UK. Child poverty had doubled in the UK between 1979 and 1998, which it called “a legacy of the 1980s – a decade characterised by a distinctly pro-rich growth pattern that left poor people behind”. A major cause was “the impact of [Thatcher] government policies that cut taxes for higher earners and lowered benefits for the poor”.

A Plan to End Child Poverty – Britain’s Initiative Has Helped 700,000 Kids. Why Don’t We Have a Goal, Too?
Since 2000 the number of American children living in poverty has risen 12 percent — to 13 million. The initial growth was due to the economic downturn. But since then, despite the ongoing expansion, the poverty rate for children on this side of the pond keeps rising, largely because the benefits of the recovery have flowed so disproportionately to families at the top of the income scale.
But in the United Kingdom, the policy-driven focus on reducing child poverty has helped to ensure that economic growth is reaching those at the bottom of the income scale. Yes, they’ve missed an interim target, and some parts of the plan need rethinking, but they’re making progress while we’re backsliding.


One Comment on "Poverty in America"

  1. Kathleen July 18, 2008 at 11:44 am ·

    Your story is very important. I recommend reading the new “The Measure of America,” the American Human Development Report for some very revealing facts and figures about the quality of life in the US.

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