Sunday, March 21, 2010


People living in poverty are defined by the government as those who do not meet a federal poverty line, which is defined by food prices, family size, and income. Despite the rigid definition let us not forget those who earn about $2 above that line, those that the government calls “the working poor”. There is a long standing problem of how to incorporate these individuals who are obviously in need of aide, but by definition they are not eligible to receive those aids.
There are a few things that have already been done by the government and service corporations to try to accommodate these “working poor”. The first is that most government social services are inclusive of more than the poverty line; most offer assistance to people who make 150%-200% of the poverty line. This strategy, however, again trips over the same problem of using economics to define those who are and who are not in poverty. John Edwards in his book Ending poverty in America: how to restore the American dream states that the underlying reason that our poverty reduction programs are so ineffective is that the government relies too much on an economic scale to determine those who live in poverty. He states that in order to truly root out the problem the government has to move to a more subjective definition of poverty; a definition that could accommodate living conditions, working conditions, non-income-related economic situations (such as overloaded taxes etc). The second way that the government is trying to resolve the issue of the working poor is that it is trying to adopt a new definition of poverty. Though this definition would not be set into action yet, it would include an escalator clause, which is basically another value that goes up and down with the American living standards. This, although a step toward the right direction for the working poor, does not solve many of the problems that are inherent to the current poverty definition.
Accommodating those who need help into our economy is one problem; however, the effectiveness of programs is the main issue. Do US anti-poverty programs, such as food stamps, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, etc, work? Evidentially, considering that the last Census Bureau (which is 2008) reports about 13% (about 39million people) of American live in poverty (by definition, which Edwards indicates that is a lacking indicator and that the true figures are about ¼ of America is in poverty), there is obviously room for improvement. How to improve is a very difficult question to answer. No one program could relieve all of the causes of poverty. In Michael Schiffer’s Connecting the Dots, poverty is described as a phenomenon that is caused by multiple events (be it education, bad luck, structural reasons, vicious circle, etc) and that just taking out one of those reasons is like pulling off one leg off of a centipede.
Though it seems like the problem of poverty seems to be inevitable, that is no reason to not act. Problems such as neglecting a certain population and ineffective programs might be bad, but the real problem lies in inaction and ignorance. Improvements should be made and problems should be addressed from their roots. If not, then the problem of poverty would truly be “the shame of our nation”.

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