Thursday, September 15, 2011

Poor with or without the Toys

Perhaps I'm being overly sensitive, or overly aware...

Once again, I'm left shaking my head regarding our country's attitude toward the poor.

On Tuesday, the report came out that revealed that the number of citizens living below poverty has increased from 14.3 to 15.1 percent. I'm think that our capacity to not only tolerate the poor, but to propose and enact policies which by design or by default leave them poorer is absolutely shameful. Equally shameful is the fact that these are the people who, whether one counts the current administration, or the among those who want to be president, are treating poverty as the crisis that it really is. Poverty is both an immediate and long term problem. It must be addressed by both immediate intervention and long term strategies. Our current efforts to relieve poverty are not robust enough and proposals by those who want to be president, at best, call for a 'trickle down' solution with healthy doses of charity.

One response is certain to arm the crowd that cheers at the mention of capital punishment or the hypothetical deaths of comatose victims with fresh cynicism. It is the the analysis of the new poverty figures by the Heritage  Foundation. Here is the abstract of their report...

"For decades, the U.S. Census Bureau has reported that over 30 million Americans were living in “poverty,” but the bureau’s definition of poverty differs widely from that held by most Americans. In fact, other government surveys show that most of the persons whom the government defines as “in poverty” are not poor in any ordinary sense of the term. The overwhelming majority of the poor have air conditioning, cable TV, and a host of other modern amenities. They are well housed, have an adequate and reasonably steady supply of food, and have met their other basic needs, including medical care. Some poor Americans do experience significant hardships, including temporary food shortages or inadequate housing, but these individuals are a minority within the overall poverty population. Poverty remains an issue of serious social concern, but accurate information about that problem is essential in crafting wise public policy. Exaggeration and misinformation about poverty obscure the nature, extent, and causes of real material deprivation, thereby hampering the development of well-targeted, effective programs to reduce the problem."

Of course the inclusion of the unemployed in the poverty statistics doesn't invalidate the numbers. The idea that a person is poor with a car, or a home, doesn't make that person or their family less poor, they are simply poor with more possessions. And, if not considered poor and not numbered with the poor, these  people don't become less poor. What it means is that it takes less to get them out of poverty (a living wage job with benefits, let's say), then it does a person or family in abject poverty. 

Perhaps we need to understand some things that really are still true among the poor.

Poor people experience varying levels of food insecurity

  • 14.5 percent (17.2 million) of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2010.
  • Essentially unchanged from 14.7 percent in 2009.

  • 9.1 percent (10.9 million) of U.S. households had low food security in 2010.
  • Essentially unchanged from 9.0 percent in 2009.

  • 5.4 percent (6.4 million) of U.S. households had very low food security at some time during 2010.
  • Down from 5.7 percent in 2009.
    Poverty with 'toys' and appliances is not an accurate picture of what it means to be poor in America...
    • The poverty rate for children was 22.0 percent in 2010, representing 16.4 million kids living in poverty. In 2010, more than one-third (35.5 percent) of all people living in poverty were children.
    • The poverty rate for working-age people (18- to 64- year-olds) hit 13.7 percent in 2010, the highest rate since the series began in 1966. Poverty among the elderly (age 65 and older) poverty was statistically unchanged over the year.
    • The poor are getting even poorer. In 2010, the share of the population below half of the poverty line hit a record high of 6.7 percent.
    • Nearly one in 10 children (9.9 percent) fell below half of the poverty line in 2010, up from 9.3 percent in 2009.
    • Non-Hispanic whites maintained far lower poverty rates than any other racial/ethnic group. Blacks were particularly hard-hit by increases in poverty from 2009 to 2010, increasing 1.6 percentage points to reach a rate of 27.4 percent.
    • In 2010, over one-third of black children (39.1 percent) and Hispanic children (35.0 percent) were living in poverty. The poverty rate for families with children headed by single mothers hit 40.7 percent in 2010. Of the 7.0 million families living in poverty in 2010, 4.1 million of them were headed by a single mom.
    How the poor are faring must be told in more comprehensive terms that how much a person makes on average...
    • Between 2000 and 2010, median income for working-age households fell from $61,574 to $55,276, a decline of roughly $6,300, which is more than 10 percent.
    • Disparities in incomes among racial and ethnic subgroups grew in 2010, as racial and ethnic minorities experienced particularly large declines in income. The  black household earning the median income is now bringing in $5,494 less than the median black household did 10 years ago (a drop of 14.6 percent) and the median Hispanic household is now bringing in $4,235 less than the median Hispanic household did 10 years ago (a drop of 10.1 percent).
    • There were losses across the income distribution in 2010, particularly at the very bottom and the very top. In 2010, incomes of families in the middle fifth of the income distribution fell 0.9 percent, for a total decline of 6.6 percent since 2007. 
    • Families at the low end of the scale were hit harder, with the bottom fifth losing 3.5 percent in 2010 and 11.3 percent from 2007 to 2010. The top fifth lost 2.7 percent in 2010, but since their losses in the prior two years were modest, the total decline from 2007 to 2010 was a relatively modest 4.5 percent.  
    • The median, or typical,  inflation-adjusted earnings of men working full-time year-round fell slightly from $47,905 in 2009 to $47,715 in 2010, while the median earnings of full-time year-round female workers stayed essentially flat, at $36,877 in 2009 and $36,931 in 2010.
    None of likes to feel guilty and there is a growing sentiment among a segment of our countrymen that a new American spirit is 'every man for himself'. But sooner or later we're going to experience a startling realization of what it means for all of us to be in this crisis together. Whatever else that means, it means that it is ludicrous to believe that my quality of life can improve significantly when more than 15% of my fellow citizens are counted as matter how many televisions they have. 

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